A detail from a picture in Bruce Haley‘s “Timber Industry” project, shot in Oregon in 1999. Haley is a former Army paratrooper and S.W.A.T. team member who became a dedicated and extremely successful war photographer, capturing images of conflict in places like Afghanistan, Somalia, Northern Ireland, and Croatia, and winning the prestigious Robert Capa Gold Medal for his coverage of the ethnic civil war in Burma. Yet despite his success in photographing human beings in the most extreme of situations, in 1999 his subject matter began to shift. As he told Jörg Colberg (writer of the fine art photography blog Conscientious):
By the years in question here, ’99 and ’00, my wife and I had come to the realization that our son (born in ’95) was not just a late talker, but was autistic. Much of my time became devoted to helping him learn to use words, then to use rudimentary sentences, then to answer questions, then to begin grasping the notion of a back-and-forth conversation… So over this period of several years, as I spent countless hours working with my son, trying to teach him how to interact with other people, the humanistic aspect of my photography lessened and lessened until people vanished from my work entirely.
Looking back on this stage of my career, I believe that I was concentrating so much on human interaction in my personal life, that the frustration and burn-out factor of that chased all vestiges of the human form out of my photography completely. I was using my work to get as far away from people as I possibly could, seeking escape and solitude by going into the depths of some of the most damaged places on the planet, where I could be alone. And perhaps there is another aspect to this as well: currently there is no known cause for the autistic spectrum disorders, but many researchers believe that there is a genetic predisposition which is brought on by environmental triggers. My work from 1999 to today has been primarily of an environmental nature; from 2002 onward, exclusively so. I suspect that this is at least partially driven by my involvement with autism, and a deep concern over what the world’s pollutants and toxins are doing to our kids.
– Bruce Haley (August 6, 2007)