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photo-eye Book Reviews: Sunder

Sunder. Photographs by Bruce Haley.
Published by Charta/Daylight, 2011.
Reviewed by Antone Dolezal

SunderPhotographs by Bruce Haley. Introduction by Clint Eastwood, Dina Eastwood. Text by Andrei Codrescu, Bruce Haley and Taj Forer.
Charta/Daylight, 2011. Hardbound. 144 pp., 55 duotone illustrations, 12x7-1/2".

Bruce Haley can tell a dark and lonely story. The darkness often comes from the reality of the subjects he photographs, while the loneliness is inevitably his own. I imagine Haley wandering through empty fields or industrial ruins, quietly observing and listening to the land, the sounds of running water or birds overhead. I imagine the low rumble of a distant tractor and Haley silently conceptualizing how he will capture the ambient noise on a two-dimensional sheet of film. There is a personal connection Haley cultivates with his subjects that is rare to see in contemporary photography. A connection that seems to be born from both being genuinely intrigued by those he photographs and from a sense of obligation in searching for some deeper understanding of a complex human condition. Haley doesn't photograph the typical; his subjects don't look to be strangers and his landscapes certainly don't appear to be from any particular country. His photographs are distinctly his, as is the story he sets out to tell.

Sunder, by Bruce Haley. Published by Charta/Daylight, 2011.
For eight years Haley wandered the landscape of post cold war countries in Eastern Europe. Here he found a people and land in a dark period of uncertainty and transition. While many around the world embraced the fall of the Soviet Union, those left in its direct wake had the hardship of rebuilding their political and economic infrastructures. Abandoned industrial sites leaked toxic waste and metal into the ground and rampant poverty plagued the newly independent countries. Haley became immersed in this reality, subsequently soaking in the heavy weight carried on the backs of those living in this uncertain land. Sunder tells the story of those bearing this burden, while simultaneously conveying a glimpse of hope and rebirth in the communities encumbered by it.

Sunder, by Bruce Haley. Published by Charta/Daylight, 2011.
Sunder, by Bruce Haley. Published by Charta/Daylight, 2011.
Haley's landscapes are known for their emptiness. They build upon a narrative that is at first subtle, but quickly becomes complex in its unifying vision. Grainy black-and-white panoramic images engulf the viewers' senses, forcing anyone who looks to bare witness to a wasteland created by an empire's fall. The stark realities of the land coincide with the photographer's depiction of its people; they too are contained within Haley's haunting expanse. Their hardships are easily recognized by the soot on their clothes and the lines in their face. However, in Sunder their depiction is not that of a stereotype, but fall within a lineage of Haley’s predecessors such as Koudelka and Bresson, who have allotted careful admiration towards those they photograph.

Sunder, by Bruce Haley. Published by Charta/Daylight, 2011.
While there are inevitable political overtones throughout this book, Haley himself takes no political stance. Instead, Sunder is an epic and timeless homage to human struggle and endurance. The rise and fall of societies is an assured occurrence, and this fact seems apparent throughout Haley’s photographic essay. The images here reflect the aftermath of political conflict, and Haley renders a heavy mood that brings to bear his subjects' hardships while also hinting towards the inspiring experience of the human spirit. I imagine Haley to be a kindred spirit, immersing himself with those he feels a deep connection with and telling a story that is as much theirs as it is his.—ANTONE DOLEZAL

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ANTONE DOLEZAL is a New Mexico based photographer and writer. He is a member of the media collective Finite Foto and his writing has appeared in photo-eye Magazine and Fraction Magazine. For more on Antone, please visit his site at