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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.

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Chris Coffey

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Chris Coffey

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