Cutting Keys at Hardwick’s: A Study in Complexity

Cutting Keys at Hardwick’s

Clearly, this is not Home Depot.  Welcome to one of my favourite haunts: Hardwick’s Hardware in Seattle.  Want a reverse-bladed Japanese saw?  A fine set of wood turning tools?  Brass corners for an ornamental box?  Endless numbers of delicate wood carving tools?  Racks of pliers with smooth points, long points, duckbill jaws, round jaws? If you have specialized hardware needs, from tiny 00 brass wood screws to a fine pocket knife, Hardwick’s has it.

Any photo of Hardwick’s is a study in complexity.  Classicaly, one aims for a clean, dramatic image that highlights the subject.  This image breaks those rules; the young key cutter is almost lost in Hardwick’s clutter that fills the cases and tabletops, then climbs up the walls.  It takes some visual concentration to separate the young assistant from his surroundings.  Many would say this picture is too complicated and busy.  Obviously, I have an emotional connection to Hardwick’s, but to me that’s the point of the image: the delightful, glorious, overwhelming clutter of the place.

Taken on my favourite street photography camera, the Ensign 820 in 6×9 cm. format, masks folded back, steadied on a table top and near the maximum aperture of the f/3.5 Ross Xpres lens, using Ilford XP-2 at around 1/25 second.

Modern Note:

Two years later, I returned to Hardwick’s and took the following image as a short cell phone panorama from almost the same spot completely undetected:Hardwick'sA Fascinating Comment on Hardwick’s:

A wonderful review that I found about Hardwick’s:

“…Clueless one-star reviewers:

If you believe “the customer is always right,” you’re probably exactly the kind of self-impressionable young dewdlet who will have your ego handed to you by the staff at Hardwick’s, julienne-sliced and neatly arranged on a second-hand (but only slightly chipped) serving platter. If you charge through the doors in a flaming hurry, you might well become a bit frustrated by the fact that nobody wears a uniform smock in a friendly, primary color with a tag that lets you address them by their first name without introductions — or that, when you do find a staffer, he or she isn’t going to cut short the $0.86 transaction with the old gal who just needs a couple of picture hangers, even though you’re OBVIOUSLY tapping your foot and waiting impatiently for that batt of insulation that they don’t carry.

Look, it’s not a home center, and it’s not all about you. Once described as “a finishing school for grumpy old men,” Hardwick’s hires employees who are more like tour guides than clerks. There’s a strong chance that not only do they know what you want and where it is, but can talk you through four or five different ways to go about your project — and show you which parts and tools (all of which they stock) can be used to complete it. Keep going back for 20 or 30 years — like ten thousand diehard customers before you — and Hardwick’s will change your life.

But if you march in there with a chip on your shoulder, they’ve definitely got the tools to cut you down to size. They were there before you blew into town, and they’ll be there after you’re dead. Besides, it’s part of the compensation package: nobody makes much money at Hardwick’s, but management allows their staff to offer real service WITHOUT subservience.

Be grateful for that. They’re teaching you what your parents should have taught you, years before you were blessed to walk through the doors of Hardwick’s: enough humility to get out of your own way and build something beautiful. Check your ego (and your backpack) at the door, take the tour, and have your eyes opened. Those grubby people ghosting around the aisles include boatbuilders, artists, Burners, millwrights, cabinetmakers, and the world’s most renowned antique motorcycle restorer. If it’s good enough for them…

Anyone can walk into Lowe’s and leave with a Kobalt Chinese spade and a cheap Stanley hammer. Go to Hardwick’s instead, and learn about hori-horis, hard-forged North Bay drawknives, laminated white steel pruners, and seventeen models of framing hammers. Like moving from Southern Comfort to single malt Scotch, going to a real hardware store instead of a hand-holding “home center” requires the development of an adult palate.

Hardwick’s isn’t there to make your life easier. It’s there to make Seattleites’ lives better. You either get it or you don’t. It may take more than one visit, and it will certainly require taking your time.”

Author: Jack L.


Hardwick’s web site.  “Rust and Dust since 1932.”

Yelp Review.  “Hardwick’s.”

Craft and Art Fairs: The Sidewalk Artist

 The Sidewalk Artist: Denver 2012

Music festivals, craft fairs, and art fairs are rich hunting grounds for vintage camera photographers.  Look especially for artist’s booths, as one may capture an image of someone sitting for their portrait or a face being painted.  These subjects are ideal for vintage cameras, as they are typically sitting very still; since the maximum aperture of a lens encircled by the mechanism of a leaf shutter is typically around  f/3.5, this allows use of a slow shutter speed.

Fortunately, this chalk artist at a sidewalk art festival in Denver was well and evenly illuminated by indirect afternoon sunlight bounced from surrounding buildings.  The original image included many legs and feet of spectators and passers-by; judicious cropping isolated the artist and his young admirer, the latter entranced by each broad stroke of colored chalk.  This image was taken on XP-2 with the Ensign 820 and the Ross Xpres lens.

Two Women: Montreal 2010

Two Women

Much of photographic composition is about the use of space.  In some compositions, the subject and the space around it become the dominant elements, and the creators of tension between space and subject.

Walking through one of Montreal’s many cobbled courtyards,I saw these two women and took an image from a distance with my Ensign 820 and Ilford XP-2 film

The Nap 2: Denver 2011

The Nap 2 – Denver 2011

Another Image of a sleeping street person, this one from Denver, taken with the Ensign 820 and its Ross Xpres lens.  There is a certain intimacy one must get when shooting with a 50mm equivalent lens, in this case the 100 mm Ross.  One must be up close; you cannot stand across the street in comfortable anonymity and shoot unnoticed.

I cropped out unnecessary  pavement left and lower, then applied Local Contrast Enhancement, increased contrast overall to give the image “snap” and dropped brightness to enhance the brooding quality of the image.

The Nap 2- Denver 2011

The Pub

Thinking in the Pub

This image illustrates two points, both important to the photographer: first, look over your old work from time to time.  Your artistic vision changes, and the simple passage of time lends a new perspective on work that you may have seen only from a single viewpoint.  Second, play with pictures.  Some of my best images have come when I take a negative that looks second-rate and start cropping and playing with contrast and Curves.  Most often, the picture is trying to speak to me, and I’m not listening.

Another lesson: if you wonder if it’s worth trying a shot, do it!  At worst, you will waste some film.  The last three best Images I have done have all been ones in marginal conditions where I wondered if the shot was worth it.

I honestly do not remember where I took this image, or the settings I that used.  I would imagine f/5.6 at a moderately slow shutter speed of 1/10 or 1/25 second, with the Voigtlander perched as unobtrusively as possible on a table top.  Originally, I looked at the out-of-focus chair back and dismissed the image, then decided to play with it.  Cropping out extraneous detail on the right and bottom placed the subject more powerfully according to the Rule of Thirds, and adjusting contrasting, brightness, and Curves brought out the reason I was attracted to this scene in the first place: the gentle lamplight falling on this pensive subject in a pub.  Once completed, the lighting in this image reminds me of the way the old Dutch masters used light in their images.

So don’t let good images be lost in the dust of your archives- look, dig, think, and like so much in life, don’t be afraid to dive into an enterprise that might not work.  More often than not, you will be surprised.