From 1994 to 2002 Bruce Haley embarked on “a far reaching (photographic) journey through numerous former USSR and Iron Country countries”, investigating a transitional point of time encompassing post-communism and post-war. This body of photographic resulted in Haley’s gritty and dark photobook Sunder, as Taj Forer describes “a stark perspective on the collapse of the Communist empire”.
His choice of using black and white photography is very well suited to this documentary style journey through a region that appears to be enduring very difficult times. I sense his range of grays as revealing a poetic and melancholic subtext to his urban subject. Likewise, his frequent choice of a panoramic photographic format seems to make the resulting dismal conditions appear to be even more overwhelming.
Haley’s body of work is very synergistic with Rania Matar’s “Ordinary Lives”, her investigation of the social aftermath of the Lebanon war. Interesting for me to compare and contrast Haley’s photographs with Katherine McLaughlin’s photobook “The Color of Hay” investigating a Romanian region during a similar point in time. Haley’s photographs are dark and pessimistic, while McLaughlin has created colorful and optimistic photographs. Looking at these two bodies of work, it would be difficult to understand how this could be the same region and time.
Haley has provided a serve commentary on war and economic blight left by communistic colonialism. His photographs are a dark criticism of both socialism and those who take adverse advantage of a countries resource that result in a wasteland left in apparent ruins. His harsh landscape photographs reveal ecological disasters that might haunt many generations yet to come.
He observes individuals who frequently appear to be in a state of resignation or barely functional in a sea of dysfunctionality. Like Matar, Haley observes the dark irony, harsh and dismal economic conditions and that with perseverance and tenacity, individuals continue to survive. This is a transitional time as a dark curtain has been drawn back only to reveal an uncertain future. Nevertheless, Haley’s narrative is a testimony as to how resilient mankind is.
This very wide hardcover book complements the many panoramic photographs that Haley has incorporated into this project. The photographs are presented as singular images per spread, with ample classic white margins framing each photograph images that make this a joy to read. The book is beautifully printed and bound in Italy revealing the many nuances’ of Haley’s moody black and white photographs. A Foreword is provided by Dina and Clint Eastwood, an extended essay is provided by Andrei Codrescu and Afterword by Taj Forer.
by Douglas Stockdale for The PhotoBook