Jefferson Hayman // The Falling Rocket // 2016

Welcome to number 12 in our series Poignant Pics where we’ve asked photo curators, educators, collectors and makers to share a brief essay on a photo that has significantly changed the way they think or look at the world.

Kat Kiernan reflects on a newly revived memory derived from a recent Jefferson Hayman image. 

I remember an Independence Day when I shot flares off the bow of my family’s tiny sailboat. I watched the sparks fall into the dark, cold Maine waters. As a child, all things seemed possible on that night of celebration. No cheers, no crowds—just one false star quietly rocketing upwards to meet the real ones that filled the sky.

Years later, when I saw Jefferson Hayman’s photograph “The Falling Rocket,” I had a visceral reaction. Few photographs, when seen for the first time, conjure such strong feelings of familiarity that we think we must have been there when it was made. Hayman’s photograph places the viewer on the riverbank, watching the sky alongside the photographer. Little is happening in the scene, yet one gets the sense that anything could—a fleeting moment with a lingering before and after. Although photographed on the Hudson River instead of the coast of Maine, the firework’s eruption and the way that it silhouettes the pine trees, turning the sky a smoky midnight blue, brings me back to the bow of the boat so many years before.

Other photographic works of art are capable of evoking past recollections, but “The Falling Rocket” is the only one that has done so for me. Although it was made in a time and place far away from my sailboat, I feel as if Hayman has reached into my memories to print and frame this one, long forgotten.

—Kat Kiernan


Kat Kiernan is the Editor-in-Chief of the photography publication Don’t Take Pictures. Her writings on photography have been published in books as well as in numerous blogs and magazines. In 2015 she received the Rising Star Award from the Griffin Museum of Photography for her contributions to the photographic community. Photoboite Agency named her one of 2012’s 30 women photographers under the age of 30 to watch. She holds a BFA in photography from Lesley University College of Art and Design, and has exhibited her photographs throughout the United States.  

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