JTF (just the facts): A total of 12 panoramic black and white photographs, mounted unframed and unmatted, and hung against grey walls in the single room gallery space. All of the works are Epson archival pigment prints on Museo silver rag paper, made between 2007 and 2010. Each of the black bordered prints is sized 14×60 and is available in an edition of 5. The show also includes a short video on the artist which is displayed on a small monitor. (Installation shots at right.)
Comments/Context: Bruce Haley is probably best known as an award-winning conflict photojournalist, taking pictures of wars, famine, and destruction in Burma, Somalia, Afghanistan and the former Soviet states. His newest work brings him back to the United States and to the dusty, desolate wastelands of Nevada, where marginal mining towns sprang up during boom times and now hold on with hardscrabble tenaciousness.
The twelve pictures in this show are arranged in a progression, almost like a time lapse recreation of the history of the region. The first few are geology and geography centric, like survey pictures from the 19th century, capturing the looming black cone of a small mountain and the vast, scrubby flatness of the empty valley below. Soon, the hand of man starts to appear: a lonely cinder block shed, mining walls, open pit holes, and the beginnings of a haphazard settlement of low rise buildings, temporary trailers, and pickups. Haley then moves in closer, making elegant, high contrast images of the geometric out buildings. Edges zig zag in and out, boxes and rectangles pile up on each other, scrap wood and winding towers create dense black angles, and tin siding adds vertical striping. The final photographs in the series move back to an elevated vantage point, taking in the sweep of the sprawling towns, with their dense clusters of houses, telephone poles, and decaying structures. The mining activity may have moved on to the next rich site, but these towns have endured with remarkable frontier stubbornness. So while there is clearly an echo of the ugly suburban menace of the New Topographics in a few of these images, I took away a bit more survivalist desperation, the unlikely scratching out of a life in the harshest of conditions.
I have to admit that I am a bit of skeptic when it comes to the panorama format; I think too many of these wide pictures seem gimmicky. My favorite panoramas are those made by Art Sisabaugh decades ago, where the strengths of the format were smartly matched with the superflat land of the Midwest. So I was somewhat surprised to like Haley’s panoramas as much as did. Both the pure landscapes and the city vistas play off the bigness of the sky and the horizontals of the land, and the up-close buildings have been carefully composed to take advantage of an enveloping edge to edge movement. I think part of their success also lies in their narrowness, which keeps the images tightly hemmed in even when they depict something grand and effusive. All in, Haley deftly engages the history of American landscape photography in these images, while still bringing his own voice to the ongoing dialogue.
Collector’s POV: All of the 14×60 prints in this show are priced in ratcheting editions, starting at $6500 and rising to $9000. The images are also available in a smaller 9×40 size (not on display, in a larger edition of 10); prices for these prints start at $4000 and rise to $8000. Haley’s work has not yet reached the secondary markets, so gallery retail is likely the best option for those collectors interested in following up.