Bruce Haley spent his formative years on a small ranch in the southwestern portion of California’s San Joaquin Valley, in an area between Lemoore and Riverdale known as the Island District. Not the sort of young man who was easily contained indoors (setting a pattern that would last a lifetime), he ran the land, rode horses and dirt bikes across the fields, and grew up. Haley is a Robert Capa Gold Medal winner and celebrated internationally for his war and documentary work that took him to Somalia, Afghanistan, Burma, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere.
For this deeply personal project, he turns his camera homeward, to the agriculture-rich San Joaquin Valley. The resulting haunting, melancholy images taken during the historic drought of 2013-2014, play out against the larger framework of contentious water politics and land use issues. Home Fires was shot in the winter, “the fallow time,” Haley writes in the introduction, a time absent of crops, workers in the fields, crop dusters flying overhead, and chemical spraying. The photographs are muted, harsh, vacant landscapes, that still evoke a reckoning of what was once among the richest fertile basins on the planet, now imprinted with and reflecting the degenerative effects of human presence.
“You are seeing the bare bones of winter compounded by the skeletal effects of an epic drought, underpinned by memory and the ghosts of childhood lost,” Haley writes. “Nothing lasts. Puddles evaporate and every single gasping fish dies. I grew up and moved on, gone like those wild creatures in my relic wilderness that were driven before the tractor and the harrow.”
The Valley was hit especially hard by the drought, not only with the loss of crops, orchards, and dairies, but with the fractures that intensified between factions of the people who call this region home: the farmers versus environmentalists, urban versus rural.
Conceived as a two-volume project, this first volume focuses on the rural roads and farm parcels in the area where Haley grew up. They still hold the memories of his 10-year-old self, but the land itself has vastly changed. Volume II, forthcoming this fall, focuses on the remote, and fairly untouched valley where he lives now.
Earth Day, April 22-
The Environmental Protection Agency website declares that: “The San Joaquin Valley is one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions and home to four million Californians. EPA is working with other agencies and local communities to address the unique environmental challenges in the valley, including some of the nation’s worst air quality, high rates of childhood asthma, and contaminated drinking water.” The theme of this year’s Earth Day, which takes place on Thursday, April 22, 2021 is “Restore Our Earth.” Home Fires is Haley’s artistic response to the urgent need to protect The San Joaquin Valley and its communities before it’s too late.
Bruce Haley (b. 1957) is a self-taught photographer with more than twenty years’ experience covering war and its aftermath. He is the recipient of the Robert Capa Gold Medal for his coverage of Burma’s bloody ethnic civil war. With a military and police background, Haley began his career in 1988, covering Afghanistan’s mujahideen resistance to Soviet occupation; shortly thereafter the legendary Howard Chapnick accepted Haley into Black Star, one of the industry’s premiere photo agencies. Over the course of his career, Haley has expanded his subject matter well beyond the battlefield – working across multiple camera formats, he has explored topics as diverse as the Bolivian altiplano, Eastern Europe’s persecuted Roma (Gypsies), the decaying infrastructure of Soviet-era industry, and the timber and extractive industries in the American West.
Bruce Haley : Home Fires : Vol 1: The Past
144 pages; 70 Color Photographs
12 1/2 x 11 inches
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