West Hill HardwareAkron, OHI’d noticed West Hill Hardware each time I passed it over the years, stopping in when I needed something specific for the house or darkroom. A family member with rental properties had often praised the place as one of those old school hardware stores where no matter how badly you described what you were looking for they would reach into a drawer, retrieve that odd bolt or washer before you’d finished your description. While the interior was a panorama of seemingly random items (there was even a 1960s photographic enlarger up on one of the shelves), it was the window displays that spoke to me. I never drove past without noting the window displays and the plethora of odd things grouped together. It reminded me of the “I-Spy”books we would buy for our nephews. My favorite items included the “clearance sign” with its multiple fonts and the dark silhouette of the women whose original purpose I could not discern. When I read in the paper that the store would soon close I knew I had to make something to document its original place in our town.
As I scouted it I felt the right light would be at the end of a cloudy day in order to reveal the modern items reflected from the auto dealership across the street. Walking the site I knew that crowding everything on one image would veil things that were important. My answer to this has always been to make a panel, in this case a triptych of three negatives, and then three silver gelatin prints. I have done this sort of thing over the years and while the composing of it presents difficulties, the printing is the hard part; prints have to be matched while they are wet as a dry silver print is much different from a wet one. This fact dictates making the entire panel the same day so that the image appears to be one print. The printing of this piece revealed details of things I know I didn’t see when I was busy composing and making the exposures. Hardware stores like this one have a staff and customer base that spans the generations (WHH had been in the same family since 1930) and are icons in their community. They are not unlike good camera stores, staffed by the same type of long term employees reaching into a similar unmarked drawer to find that obscure item you seek, and are all but gone now.
As a young man I wandered the green spaces/parks near my home as well as the factories and rail yards. Both environments offered a lot to learn about light and the effect the seasons have on it — valuable currency for picture making. I wandered with no destination in mind but it’s possible that I found a version of me that would not have been possible on any other path. The camera didn’t take me outdoors — the outdoors took me to the camera as a way of telling others the story. This education was augmented via travel by rail from Michigan to New Mexico, home of my mother’s family. From the train whole worlds were made visible, the sky so much larger than any painting or photograph, human presence right-sized in relation to the natural world, and I consider the window of the train to be my first camera.
Later the camera was added to my wandering and though the results were wide of the mark, I was not discouraged. Decades later a couple of beginning darkroom classes introduced me to that magic that occurs when a blank piece of paper comes to life in the developer tray. Dedicated study of lots of photographs (still a ritual for me) taught me what good photographs are, resulting in what I refer to as a visual literacy, a kind of Photographic IQ. Making (and throwing away) lots of prints and the study under master print makers educated me to what was possible emotionally in the fine print.
Experience revealed that my landscapes and man made subjects are really the same — only the approach is different. While landscape work demands that I find order in the incredible chaos that is nature, the built environment requires that I discover the disorder in what was designed to be orderly. Both require command of the “supreme instant”, that moment when the light is like no other time. Human made subjects introduced me to geometry, the first but not the only non-verbal language I would learn.
Over the years I have been asked one question repeatedly; “what is your favorite picture?” and while the quick answer has always been “the next one”, the ones I value most are the images made of something unnoticed before and now made visible by training the eye.
For the technically curious
Since 1995 I have utilized various sizes of large format camera from 4”x5” up to 7” x 17”. Beyond the obvious benefit of a lot of detail in the resulting print and the ability to use the camera movements to replicate how the human eye sees, it is the slow and contemplative approach required by working this way that has served my vision the most. At times, during the 5 - 10 minutes required to set up and level the camera a more interesting view is often 10 feet away from where I stopped. And there are other times when during that set up routine I change my mind about what is in front of me and walk away because I or someone else has done it before, or because it’s good but not great. As your seeing matures you realize the one you are willing to walk away from is the most important image of the day.
Prints are made in a traditional darkroom, always by me, and to archival standards from selenium toning and washing of the prints to use of only archival mounting and matting materials. And when a project dictates it, I wet scan negatives to work in the digital environment using pigmented inks on watercolor paper.
I am migrating to this site from an older one as time allows between shows and workshop obligations. The images will be moved first followed by the commerce areas.
In the meantime you can contact me for print orders via text (330-714-1481) or email ([email protected]).
I anticipate the change to this new site to be complete this winter and thank you for your patience.