The Frames Choose the Photographs: An Interview with Jefferson Hayman

BY JULIETTE LUDEKER

SR: You have a unique style that is reminiscent of early 20th century artists such as Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand. And much of your work is images made of contemporary objects but with a referencing of the past. Can you speak a little but about your influences and motivation in creating work? How did you come to work in a style that is far from the slick, hyper-real images many people associate with photography today? What ideas, reference, emotions, etc. are you hoping to trigger in those who view your images?

Hayman: Nostalgia has always affected me and influenced my work – I want to be careful and not fall into the trap of being nothing more then a copyist however, so I work in ways that my influences can be seen but that I can still maintain a contemporary footing. In terms of emotions triggered by viewers – I hear quite a variety: silence, loneliness, calming, mysterious….I enjoy hearing feedback in any and all forms, even if it is negative.

You mentioned that you’re becoming known as “The Frame Guy” because of the heavy frames you include as part of the final pieces. Your frames seem to be mostly found objects, made of wood, often dark and without ornament. How did the frames become a part of your work? Do you consider your images complete without the frames? What do they add that you feel isn’t said without them? How do you go about choosing what kind of frame best suits an image?

The frames choose the photographs actually. My studio walls are filled with empty, antique frames. The sizes and various elements of the frame dictate what photograph will go inside. A reverse way of creating the final product I guess.  I actually enjoy my work tremendously when it is displayed without a frame – they take on the role of odd little family photographs. When displaying in this way I usually fill up antique boxes with the unframed photos – so there is still a trace element of the frame or housing of the work. I find that people enjoy actually handling and touching the photographs as they sift through the box – I guess its an oddity to go against the ‘preciousness’ notions of art…

In this edition, we’ve published some of your Zeppelin series. What’s the story behind these? Did you seek out the airships or did the idea come out of a “right place at the right time” moment?

The zeppelin or airship images are some of my favorites. I tell all of my friends in NYC, whenever you see one, call my cell phone and tell me where it is. I then go find it and wait for it to fly into a proper composition, and hopefully I get the shot. I sometimes try to sound intelligent and liken this process to Ahab chasing the great whale.  People actually fall for it.

You mentioned to me that many people assume you’ve digitally inserted the zeppelin in your images, but you don’t manipulate your images, correct? How do you usually compose you images? What kind of equipment do you use? Do you do your own printing? Describe your working methods briefly, if you would.

Yes, in this digital age people just assume that one is never doing any real work like going outside and looking for compositions. Being at the right place at the right time now takes on a greater significance it seems. I use a 35mm Leica camera. I prefer to shoot on overcast days with ambient rather then direct light. I also do a filtration technique in the darkroom to enhance the vintage feel just slightly. Then comes toning and framing of the photograph.

Looking at your body of work I’m struck by the notion that no matter what you are photographing you are making a *portrait* of your subject (as opposed to a documentation of them). Whether a subject is architectural (skyscrapers in New York City), figurative (portraits of young people), or still life (some of which we’ve published in this edition) you represent the character or essence of the subject. How do you conceptualize your work? What do you hope to capture from your subjects? What do you think about when making an image?

Everything has a character. I don’t mean to be overly metaphysical here–but certain objects or places have a distinct feel or personality to them, just like friends, family and complete strangers. I enjoy the fact that people could engage in a conversation about my photograph *Waterglass* which is illustrated here. An object that is so commonplace that it’s almost nothing – but its own humility makes it something greater.