Bruce Haley spent a few years (1994-2002) wandering around some of the backwaters of the former Soviet Union to take photographs. The Soviet Union is “long” gone. It is mostly remembered as a prop, as a cypher, as a stand-in for the other side in debates that rarely involve any actual information about what really happened. In that sense, talking about the Soviet Union is pointless. I don’t see Sunder, the newly released book that shows Haley’s work, as centering on the Soviet Union. Instead, it’s a book about us, about our human follies and dreams. (more)
Peel aside the theories, the systems, the propaganda, and human history is a collection of human dreams and human follies. We all aspire to do better - otherwise, why even bother? Sometimes, we succeed, sometimes, we fail. Sunder is filled with images showing just that.
There might be a Lenin on the cover, but many of the images could have been taken anywhere. The photograph on page 117 reminded me of the post-industrial wasteland that you can find just a short drive out of Pittsburgh, PA, where I lived for a few years. The photographs of young children playing I could see taking a walk.
I think one would really want to look past anything that points to a certain other time and place in Sunder, and look at what points to our time and place - just like how we should study history not to cram facts about what happened at a certain time and place long gone and far away, but to see what we can learn from that.
And then the question is not whether we are just like “them,” whether we are the new Rome for example, but instead how we can tilt the dreams-to-follies ratio a little bit more towards the dreams, and less towards the follies. Of course, this is what we would expect our politicians to do, but looking at how things are going right now that might not necessarily be happening.
If there’s something to be learned from the photographs in Sunder it’s that there will always be those dreams, and that there will be photographers like Bruce Haley willing to spend a few years on taking photographs to show us. Now it’s up to us to look.
Sunder, photographs by Bruce Haley, introduction by Dina & Clint Eastwood, essay by Andrei Codrescu, 144 pages, Charta/Daylight, 2011