The following is Kat Kiernan’s foreword for Jefferson Hayman’s monograph, Things I Saw Without You.
Photographers in the early 20th century held their breath when making an exposure. Photography was a slow process, and the rise and fall of their chests could render the image blurry. With the shortened length of time now required to make a picture we can breathe normally, but that sense of anticipation—that tense yet hopeful moment before the shutter closes—is absent. Influenced by the medium’s pioneers, Jefferson Hayman’s photographs have a stillness that allows us to linger over the tableau. Delicate and quiet, his photographs speak to us in hushed tones. The muted palates and minimal compositions provide a moment of pause in an otherwise frenetic world.
Hayman lives a life photographic, finding as much inspiration in the stillness of the countryside as he does in the fervent energy of the city. His atmospheric photographs create from our present a fictitious past. Manhattan in midwinter looks unchanged from the turn of the last century, and a man sits at a typewriter as though time moves differently through Hayman’s lens.
Empty frames clutter the walls of Hayman’s studio, waiting to be filled with imagery. Some are antique discoveries and others are hand-crafted by the artist himself. Varying in scale and depth, they serve as portholes to images of the sea, windows onto landscapes, and shadow boxes for still lifes to rest. No two frames are alike, imbuing each piece with a distinct personality.
The soft, white-on-white tones of many the still lifes and portraits gives them the appearance of apparitions. It is like Hayman has reached into our memories and photographed them. Imagery of a face, a pair of shoes, or a rolling tide take on a tone of half-remembered memory fragments that we carry with us the way someone might carry a keepsake in their wallet. Looking at the photographs we hold our own breath, as though to exhale too quickly might cause them to blow away.
Kat Kiernan is a photographer and the Editor-in-Chief of Don’t Take Pictures. She has contributed essays for monographs by Agnieszka Sosnowska, Norm Diamond, and Jefferson Hayman; as well as numerous articles to many other publications.