I started my career as a photographer in the early 1990s, and one of my happiest moments was the discovery of a small brick building, tucked into a corner of a residential road in the East Sussex town of Uckfield: MXV.
No idea what MXV stood for – I never bothered to ask. But it was a treasure trove of used photographic equipment. Some of it well worn, some of it frankly looked unused. It did not matter what you were after, the chances were that they had it, or had recently had it, or thought they might get it in soon, and when they did, they would let you know.
It was pretty good for selling stuff to. If you had something you wanted shot of, they’d give you a reasonable price (assuming they figured they could sell it on), and if you were happy to wait, the would sell it for you on a commission basis to earn you a better price.
I lost track of the number of times I went in there, or phoned, or checked their stock on the clunky but perfectly usable website. I sold things, and I bought things. The most recent thing I bought was a Mamiya 6 rangefinder (rare beyond belief now and at least double what I paid for it if you can find them). Probably my best buy from them was a Mamiya RZ Pro II 6×7 with a 110mmf2.8 lens, waist level finder, and a couple of film backs. I paid half what it would have been new, and it was so “mint” it still had a protective shipping sticker on it. Not a finger print anywhere. Apparently someone had been labouring under the impression that a professional camera would improve their photography, a notion which to my advantage they were clearly dissuaded of.
MXV was full of stuff like that – an invaluable source of the odd thing that a photographer might need. Sadly, within the last couple of weeks, they have ceased to be; a victim not only of the astonishing speed with which so many serious photographers ditched film to dive into the brave new digital world, but also of that other digital creation – eBay. Paul Beaumont tried to take MXV in the right direction by creating an online shop on eBay to help shift the gear, but in the end there can be little doubt that the seismic downward shift in the value of their stock must have made survival near on impossible. While odd items like the Mamiya 6 have gained in value according to their scarcity and desirability, the vast majority of second hand gear simply lost its market, and most first, second and third generation digital cameras have little residual value with short shelf lives and rapid advances in new generation equipment replacing it.
Probably the only place left now of its like in the UK is Mr Cad, run by the inimitable Alex Falk. To be fair, Mr Cad always was in a different league, and whereas MXV was really about cameras, Mr Cad has always been about photography: cameras, darkroom equipment, studio lighting. You name it, Mr Cad is the Mecca of traditional photography. If your heart is in film, then Mr Cad will probably be your spiritual home. Whether you are a small scale hobbiest, or you want to kit out an industrial darkroom, Alex Falk has forgotten more about the paraphernalia of photography than the most dedicated of students is ever likely to know. When I needed a second hand specialist darkroom water heating unit (designed to keep mains water running at a temperature stable to within 3 tenths of a degree) Mr Cad had it. Actually they had about half a dozen. You get my point. But while Mr Cad may survive, it was the Tesco to MXV’s boutique.
MXV – R.I.P