By Gail Jennes
Updated March 26, 1979 12:00 PM

He may be $833,000 in debt, but Harold Holden, 55, has the solution for some of the world’s murkiest problems. With his patented developing fluid and compatible film, black-and-white photographs can now be enlarged 60 times with minimal graininess and little loss of detail. Thanks to the breakthroughs of Holden’s Vermont-based H&W Co., high-altitude ocean scans by the U.S. Navy are able to pick up details on foreign vessels. A California police stakeout used his film to identify a burglar as he broke into a supermarket a quarter of a mile away. Other customers include Israeli intelligence agencies and the FBI, as well as crystallographers doing snowflake studies and biologists surveying wildlife migrations (they can distinguish males from females in enlargements). A Montana rancher counted his herd with Holden blowups and in one day finished a census that used to take three weeks. In many ways, the high-resolution developer and film have brought a new dimension to photography.

In 1966 Holden, a twice-married, San Diego-bred jack of many arts (English professor, poet, musician, composer, cryptographer, editor) began to look for a way to enhance enlargements. He had been a photographer since he turned his bathroom into a darkroom by stuffing towels under the door at age 12. While chairing the English department at Ohio’s Central State University, Holden enlisted the help of Arnold Weichert, one of his instructors and also an amateur photographer. After two years of dabbling in the dark in their lavatories, the pair discovered that Phenidone, when dissolved in large amounts with other compounds, gave them a developer that produced stunning results. They deserted academe and settled in Saint Johnsbury, Vt. to manufacture their H&W products in an old creamery, patenting their formula in 1973.

Their attempts at mass marketing failed, and in 1974 Weichert quit the partnership. Holden persisted. After all, the process produced four-by-six-foot prints, twice the size possible with conventional film. And to date he has filled more than 50,000 orders. He himself sells the developer at $2.80 per four-ounce bottle. The film is available through technical dealers, H&W and 3M in various sizes starting at $2.25.

It’s been a courageous slog for Holden, considering that along the way he has sired seven children (they’re now 14 to late 30s). As the future of the H&W process enlarges, Holden has become as much a crusader as entrepreneur. “It’s been tough to survive,” he admits. “But if I had quit, I’d have been contemptible.”