Wednesday, September 17, 2008

13 Million Tons of Pig Iron by Bruce Haley

In 2003, the photographer Bruce Haley self-published a wonderful limited edition portfolio called 13 Million Tons of Pig Iron. Sparing no expense by printing with the legendary Meriden Gravure in a unique drytrap process on heavy weight paper, the portfolio consists of 13 loose plates of photographs plus title and edition plates. All copies are signed and numbered in an edition of 500.

Starting in 1999 and working with a 35mm panoramic camera loaded with black and white film, Haley wandered the industrial wastelands of Eastern Europe. Abandoned factories and mining facilities given over to rust, transform into toxic sites that pollute the surrounding landscape; pipes emerge from the ground and continue to spew toxins into the water and air; neglected heavy metals contaminate the ground water. The detritus of a once huge industry now lays waste as scrap on a mammoth scale creating uninhabitable dead zones poisoned for generations.

Haley's photographs are contradictions. They are seductively beautiful yet describe the decay and ruin of an industry. Twisted plates of tarnished metal reflect the sunlight with a full range of grays so attractive, it may be hard to imagine they looked better when new. Inside the factories, the equipment looks as if the workers had just left their stations if not for the fallen ceiling material that now covers everything like snow. The only human presence felt is the ghost of repetitive labor punctuated by a safety poster which depicts a recoiling worker with his hand caught in his machine.

These are also pictures about weight and resilience. The sheer magnitude and heft of the iron machinery will promise lifetimes of painfully slow transformation if left on its own. 13 Million Tons of Pig Iron describes that devastating legacy.

Haley uses the panoramic well by filling his frames with graceful lines and geometry. His black and white photos can be grainy which, in my opinion, is an interesting choice considering most people's tendency towards using a larger format for tactile clarity. The grain here, I do not think it's a stretch to say, adds to a sense of everything simply dissolving.

The construction of the portfolio from the drytrap prints to the folded enclosure and belly band that holds it all together is so well made with quality materials that the whole package feels as nice to the touch as it is to view. The belly-band features a hammer and sickle centered in a red star - the edges of which are chipped and broken, much like the ideology which celebrated the creation of all that has been now left to the elements.

Bruce has a limited quantity available. For inquiries contact him directly at