A Conversation with Photographer Bruce Haley

After 20 years spent photographing conflict, Haley has some practicle advice

Veteran photojournalist Bruce Haley has seen the worst of us. He’s covered conflicts stretching back to the Afghan battle against the Soviet Union. For his work on Burma’s bloody ethnic civil war, he received the Robert Capa Gold Medal, which honors photographic reporting that requires exceptional courage.

Ten years ago, Haley wrote a timeless essay called The Tao of War Photography, arguably more relevant today than when it was originally drafted. It’s part training manual and part memoir, mostly tragic and a little bit hilarious. We published the essay in our May/June issue, and we wanted more. Here's a conversation between Haley and Utne Reader's Jeff Severns Guntzel. To see more of Haley's work, visit his website at www.brucehaleypictures.com.

Utne Reader: Why did you write The Tao of War Photography?

Bruce Haley: Approximately. The piece came mostly from years of people saying ‘You should write a book!’ But that’s the polar opposite of what I want to be or what I want to do. My work is about the places and people that I photograph. It has nothing to do with my role in getting those photographs. This piece was the closest thing to the bullets-whizzing-around-me autobiography that anybody is ever going to get out of me.

I have some friends who are writers and they go: “Your true voice really comes through in this thing”—which means the sarcasm and dark humor. Every breath I take is laced with one or both. I take my work very, very seriously. I just don’t take myself seriously, you know what I mean?

UR: I interviewed this forensic anthropologist many years ago. He’d been digging in mass graves for decades—Guatemala, El Salvador, Iraq—digging up bodies with family and friends of the victims standing at his side watching and waiting. More than any other experience, he said, he witnessed the full range of human at the site of mass grave exhumations. Is that true of the conflict situations you’ve photographed?

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