by David M.
We moved to a bigger house with a spare bedroom and at last I could have a stand-up darkroom, next door to the bathroom. My knees were delighted.
Now that I was a member of a Camera Club, I could see other people’s work and try to emulate it. At the time, soot-and-whitewash was very fashionable and grain was particularly esteemed. I began to push Tri-X beyond all reason. It’s what we did.
One of the members had an enlarger to give away. Was I interested? My old, onion-dome enlarger was getting troublesome so I said yes. Eventually, I gave it away. The new free enlarger proved to be a 7x5” monster, almost as tall and heavy as me, made by Micro Precision Products, better known for their sturdy and versatile metal field cameras.
|MPP Micromatic 5x7" enlarger from the MPP Users" Club|
No metal had been spared in constructing it. A massive inclined column made of multiple aluminium girders held the gigantic negative carrier and the huge bellows, all counterbalanced by magnificent springs and weights. In principle, it could auto-focus but making it work reliably was beyond my modest engineering skills.
There was no light-source so I knocked up a plywood box to hold a high-powered bulb, painted the inside white and the outside black, and devised some cunning lightproof ventilation holes. I’m quite sure it was extremely dangerous: the plywood box got very hot indeed while I fiddled with focus and composition, but I’d switch off when I smelled burning.
This was a diffusion enlarger and although I don’t think my prints became any better, the towering column meant that they could be much bigger. Here’s a tip for ambitious Camera Club photographers: big prints are more impressive to judges than small ones, even if their size makes their faults more obvious.
I was soon promoted to the Advanced Class. Do they still have 20x16” prints in clubs or has the digital revolution changed this, too? If so, it’s a good thing. Size, as you may have heard, isn’t everything.
And so, you might imagine that I was content. I bought bigger dishes for my bigger prints and lashed out on a real Nikon F. A very scruffy one, it’s true, but Nikons laugh at knocks and it did have the square-hole plain prism. If only I’d known that a mint square hole plain prism (black, in original box) would be worth about £1,200 today, I’d have treated it with more respect.
But in the darkroom, discontent was bubbling. Colour was raising its seductive hydra heads. And my gigantic MPP didn’t have a colour head…