The matters of our psyche and our dreams, in particular, permeate the work of Nicolas Bruno not only as a phenomenon but moreover as the articulation of personal experience. The allusive, surreal and haunting works he creates are embodiments of the state in between waking and sleeping. They are an effect of the artist’s torment; the situation in which he is constrained to embrace the subconscious and its perils while being paralyzed in bed. Although the works of Nicolas Bruno are quite personal and might seem hush, bizarre and even violent, they are explicitly suggestive and are calling the observer to participate in the sense of enrolling their own associations or perhaps dealing with their own anxieties and fears.
Photography As Therapy.
Nicolas Bruno was born in 1993 in Northport, New York, a small harbor community located on Long Island. He studied at Purchase College and received his BFA in Photography in 2015. His studio is located in Northport, so practically all of the preparations for the shoots are taking place there, as well as postproduction. Since all of his practice is very much devoted to the symbolic of dreams, the artist keeps the dream journal and starts each new series by analyzing previous experiences. As a matter of fact, his creative process begins with in-depth planning, but the very shoot is far more spontaneous and open to experimentation.
The Sleep Paralysis of Nicolas Bruno.
The foundation of his photographic experimentation lays in Bruno’s struggle with the sleep paralysis, from which he has been suffering for almost ten years. It is a common phenomenon occurring in between wakefulness and sleep, in which the body becomes immobile and it often causes severe hallucinations. This state of inescapability forced Nicolas Bruno of finding some sort of solution and with the advice of a therapist he found it through creative expression. Therefore, he started working on surreal self-portraiture as a therapeutic translation of night tremors in order to cope with these fears and simultaneously share these familiar emotions of anxiety, suspense, uncertainty, and danger.
Nicolas Bruno’s works are haunting, evocative, and terribly poignant. They not only express the explicit fears brought to Mr. Bruno in his paralyzing sleep, they also express implicit fears and anxiety of people in general. Each photograph is a masterpiece of unspoken fear, and when viewing, you simply cannot help but to feel, in a very small way, what the night and sleep is like for Mr. Bruno. Sleep Paralysis is not common, and unfortunately, not well understood either. Many people do have an isolated incident of sleep paralysis. I had a period in my teens into my early twenties of sleep paralysis, and it’s terrifying, to say the very least. Nicolas Bruno has come up with a unique way of dealing with it, and I think he deserves a much wider audience for this amazing work.
You can read and see more of Mr. Bruno’s bio here, and his portfolio here. There’s also this all too brief video:
The photos are hauntingly beautiful, but also highly disturbing. The way he uses dim light and keeps faces shrouded makes his pictures very nightmarish. What a terrible place he must inhabit during these episodes. And what a great talent to be able to make this fear palpable for others. These photos will stay with me for a while.
I agree, that’s great talent right there, and sleep paralysis is terrifying. Back when it used to happen to me, I never got the visions of people or creatures in the room with me. Instead, I ‘woke up’ in a body which was completely non-responsive. I would be laying there, internally screaming, trying to get my eyes to open, or to get one finger muscle to twitch. It was agonizing, and somewhere beyond terrifying, being trapped, isolated, no way to communicate or to make any part of myself to respond. I never knew how long these episodes went on for, either, because I could not get my eyes open upon ‘waking’, but it felt like hours of trying for response, any response. These episodes would usually be preceded by extremely intense dreaming; when I had such dreaming which didn’t lead to paralysis, it led to sleepwalking.
I’ve hated sleeping from a very young age, it has never been welcome, still isn’t, even though I can appreciate the benefits of good sleep. I just rarely have good sleep. I loathe dreaming, and these days, wake myself as soon as I find myself dreaming, the rest of the time, I manage to sleep light enough that I don’t remember dreams or am not aware of dreaming.
When I was in my early 20s, I learned to recognize when a paralysis would come on, even starting to fall asleep, I would lose control of my muscles, of my body, and it would take an agonizingly long time to pull myself out, but once I did, if I stayed up for two or three hours more, I could then go into normal sleep.
Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says
Weird as hell. Thanks for exposing me to this, Caine.
I’m particularly impressed, btw, with the fire pic. Not sure how one is able to shoot that without getting burned, but I’m glad Bruno was able to do it.
CD, yeah, I’ve stared at that fire photo for a long time. I would have been terrified to sit there for the seconds it would take to get the photo. That takes much more nerve than I have. That said, the juxtaposition of a man calmly reading a paper while the sofa burns is a powerful one.
My initial exposure was the second photo, which was touched on in the video, showing Nicolas wrestling the bed frame into the water and so on. I think that one impacted me because water resonates with me; fire just scares the hell out of me.
I badly want that first picture, with the couch, to be titled “This Is Fine”.
Caine, I can’t imagine how terrifying that must be. Do you have a fear of being restrained now? Not that it is any way comparable, but my legs were restrained by either body casts or braces until I was 7 and now I have a powerful fear of any type of restraint. If I need surgery they can’t buckle me down until I’m asleep because I panic. I can also be claustrophobic, but less so if I can move around.
I have one memory from my childhood that is probably a case of sleep paralysis. I was only about four or five years old because it was before we moved to our current house, but it was so terryfying that it embedded itself deep into my memory.
I was still sleeping in my cot, but with one side of the fence being lowered because I could get out on my own at the time anyway.
That one day, in the middle of the night, I woke up, but I could not move or get out of the bed. I had open eyes but that was it, I could not move a muscle. I tried to scream, to shout, to say something and I felt all the muscles receiving the orders to do something, yet they did not. I was terrified that I will stay thus, trapped in immovable body, unable to communicate. It then morfed into a dream of me walking around the room openning my mouth noiselessly and then I fell asleep again.
Not an experience I would wish to repeat often. I do not envy anyone who has to cope with it more than once in a lifetime. These pictures are terryfying.
Oh, that’s comparable. Yes, I do have a fear and hatred of any type of restraint. It even extends to wearing gloves, I can’t cope with them for any length of time, not being able to feels things directly with my fingers and hands. I’m the same as you on the slab, no restraints until I’m out, and I flip out if the anesthesiologist tries to hold the mask on my face, it has to be on the side while I breathe deeply. I can handle things like an MRI, but only if I’m left alone -- being made to wear headphones puts me into a panic, and don’t even think about dropping a fucking washcloth on my face. *shudder*
That’s all too familiar, except for the open eyes. Gad, it’s hard for me to imagine that happening when I was so young, that had to have an extra dimension of fear for you at the time. I was much older when my episodes happened, and once I was ‘woke’, I didn’t stop until I managed to break through and physically wake up. For that to happen to a four or five year old, oh, nightmare doesn’t begin to cover it.
Wow. Haunting is the right word, what an amazing work. I never experienced sleep paralysis, I cannot even imagine the agonizing fear, but I had really bad nightmares as a child. There is one photo in Nicolas Bruno portfolio, the one in which he is being persecuted and is running away while tied to a chair… it sent shivers down my spine. It evoked a recurring dream I had, one of the most terrifying of them all. All of his photos are disturbing in some way, but that one in particular, that image is going to stay with me for a long time.
Oh gods, recurring dreams, yep those are always bad. I struggled with some in childhood that just did not want to go away. Felt like I was stuck in a time loop with no way out, and mine involved running and trying to escape too.
One thing I remember from childhood was a strategy that I eventually developed to help me avoid those dreams. I can’t explain how I came up with it or why it worked, but I seem to remember it did help. Every night, before falling asleep, I would consciously play all the recurring dreams in my head, the ones I wanted to avoid the most. I even had a sequence I would follow every night so I wouldn’t forget any important one. Thinking back that was kind of a weird thing to do, but I guess it at least gave me some sense of control.
It sounds like you did find a way to control them, rather than them controlling you. I can see how that would work, deliberately calling them up, and reviewing them. Allowed you to dismiss them when you were asleep. I wish I had thought of that.
Timely post, this, as my bouts of sleep paralysis have flared up again. They seem to be most likely to occur when I am in a state of uncertaintity regarding a major life transition; especially intense when feeling quite stuck and edging towards possible unstuckness but still undecided about what direction to take.
Falling asleep flat on my back also seems to factor in somehow.
I have the lovely tendency to continue dreaming a moment while being quite conscious that I am unable to move, so I’m familiar with the sense of something hovering nearby. It doesn’t last long and by now I understand what is happening so I can bring myself out of it but the moment of panic before awareness sets in is still there.
chigau (違う) says
I had a few sleep paralysis episodes as a teenager. (50 years ago)
They were not terrifying but they were disturbing.
I had a bit of control over them after I grokked what they were:
i.e.” I will just wait this out.”
I also took to twitching as I was going into sleepstate.
Usually, wiggling a foot. That worked for a long while.
There’s a couple that almost are absurdist, and the saddest one of the man in the field with the lantern. Bruno’s other work is wonderfully surreal, though oddly enough for most I feel less the fear and more of a sadness and loss and inevitability. Like a powerless loneliness (this, in the two communicating via cans and string, and the scissors…). Even the one flying with the umbrella, it is almost happy (yay flying!) but you just know he’s going to come down hard.
I really like the b&w figure on the pier, turning into smoke. Isn’t that what we all are, fleeting images in this life, soon to be gone.
Yes, it’s been noted that the supine position is a major factor in paralysis. I was thinking about that yesterday, and realized that for decades now, I never allow myself to fall asleep in that position. That position allows for the soft palate to drop, and increases any sensation of being choked or suffocated, and it can induce apnea.
I’m sorry to hear you’re wrestling with this beast again.
The one which affected me most, on a visceral level, was the lone, caped man on the hill, very distanced. I have no idea why, but that one made me physically recoil.
I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that while I distinctly remember doing that on purpose, I can’t remember what was the thought process that led me to try it or how I found out it worked. I think maybe I noticed that the nights I went to bed more afraid of having those dreams (and thus thinking about them) would turn out to be good nights, while the ones that I fell sleep unconcerned turned out to be bad ones. Maybe. I wish I could ask child-Nightjar about it, surely she would be able to explain it better.
That sounds about right to me. Being afraid, you brought the dream into waking life, and that allowed you to be free in your sleep. Thinking back, the worst recurring dream of mine lasted about 3 months, and it was exhausting me, so in the end, I started replaying it in my head during the day. It was after about a week of that, that the dream ended. I just wish I had done that sooner! That dream took place 50 years ago, and I still remember every freaking detail of it.
I think when we’re sprogs, there’s a lot of instinctive reaction going on, and when you’re young, you trust that.
Odd. I felt a very strange attraction to that one.
Normally, I think I would have had an attraction too, it’s the sort of thick with atmosphere photo that I like, but somewhere, it made a connection to something in my head that led to the opposite. I’ve tried thinking about it, but I can’t figure out what caused that reaction.
Marcus Ranum says
Those are awesome.
A bunch of years ago I did some photos with fire (some stock stuff for an ad) and it was extremely difficult to get it right -- I am in awe of the photographers’s exposure and lighting, to get the depth of field and the sharpness in the flames, I’m envious.
Marcus Ranum says
Ps -- rubber cement. That’s what makes those big thick flames. Rubber cement. Nice and deep and red. Ether’s blue. Alcohol’s yellow.
Bruno had to be feeling the heat though -- he’s on the very edge of the sofa, but still…eep.