The Hunter Penrose ‘process camera’ was first manufactured in 1893.

A Saddleworth photographer has brought a giant piece of the borough’s manufacturing heritage back into use after finding it in the stores of Gallery Oldham.

Over the last two years Ian Beesley has been working with the gallery as an artist in residence and has developed an interest in the pieces contained in its collections.

While poring over the many items his well trained eye was caught by a large Hunter Penrose industrial process camera.

The vintage piece had been used in the manufacture of wallpaper at Rome Mill in Springhead for many years before being donated to the Gallery.

Within seconds of seeing the wooden camera he made a snap decision to restore it and get it back in working order.

The work involved specialist restoration of the lens as well as a good deal of cleaning. 

Most importantly Ian had to meet the challenge of using a camera that was designed for huge negatives 20 inches square. 

His solution was to create a grid which could take smaller negatives resulting in images made up of 20 separate prints. 

The next step was to take the camera out on the road. 

A transit van was required to transport it and with a little modification this also doubled as a darkroom enabling the slides to be reloaded out in the field. 

Several images were taken around Oldham and visitors can now see a selection of these large pictures in the Designs on our Future exhibition at Gallery Oldham which runs until October 3. 

Ian said: “Wherever we took this camera people were fascinated by its scale and by the effort involved in making just one image. 

“It has been great fun and a real challenge getting this far and I’m hoping to produce a full scale exhibition with this camera eventually.”

The Gallery would love to hear from people with memories of using this camera over the years. Please contact curator Sean Baggaley


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