Capturing Chestnut Hill’s personalities in portraits

Antiques Gallery owner Gerry Schultz has run his Chestnut Hill business for 28 years. At 80, he wakes up at six in the morning each day to work at his store on Germantown Avenue, which he considers more of a post-retirement passion than a business. Schultz is one of 34 portraits of people who work in Chestnut Hill businesses featured in the Chestnut Hill Art Initiative’s “Ambassador” exhibit at 8517 Germantown Avenue, which runs through December 30.“I call it the flavor of Chestnut Hill,” says Schultz, who opened his gallery soon after he retired from a career in the steel industry in 1982.Brooklyn-based photographer Keith Coleman traveled to Chestnut Hill to work on the project with his friend, Chestnut Hill Arts Initiative member and local artist Brookes Britcher. The duo spent two and a half days visiting businesses around Germantown Avenue to convince the owners and employees within to be photographed.“It’s such tight community that at first five people said ‘yes’, and then word got around on the avenue and more people signed up,” Coleman said. Then came three days of photo shoots. Coleman set up his lights and camera at 8517 Germantown Avenue for 12-hour days three consecutive days to accommodate around 45 subjects, balancing having hours of down time to adjust his equipment with rushes of people suddenly arriving for a few minutes on their lunch break and after five at night, when their shifts ended.“It demanded an incredible amount of intuitive technique to be able to [photograph] 13 people a day,” Britcher says who has created art installations in storefronts on Germantown Avenue. “Everyone photographed has been working there for at least 8 years, and as long as 57 years.”The breadth of tenured business personalities featured in “Ambassadors” include Angelo’s Barbershop owner Angelo DiPinto, Joel Levinson of Joel Levinson Architects, and Amy Edelman of the Night Kitchen Bakery who together have more than a century of experience working in Chestnut Hill.Coleman says he photographed his subjects on film using a press camera, whose four-by-five-inch negatives captured meticulous detail once they were blown up as poster-sized prints. He also filmed 12 video interviews which will be on display during the exhibition.  “People are discovering the people who are behind the counters,” says Britcher.  “We had this woman come in who said it felt like she walked into Soho in the middle of Chestnut Hill.” 

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