''Sleep paralysis has been an ongoing occurrence for me ever since the age of 15,'' explains the 21-years old American photographer Nicolas Bruno in a recent interview with Yatzer. ''I have experienced bone chilling hallucinations and extreme terror during these dreams: faceless silhouetted figures, embraces from shadow-like hands, the warping of reality around me - all the while being completely paralyzed in the midst of being awake and sleeping.''
Halfway between sleep and consciousness, Bruno enters a haunting dreamscape of faceless figures and lands where mist rises from the grasses in full daylight, places where people bathe with naked shop mannequins, and where bodies fall out of trunks. Although the nightmares Nicolas Bruno experiences in sleep paralysis are an ongoing struggle for the young artist, photography helps the nightmares subside. ''It took a huge toll on my well being for the majority of my life - especially during my sixteenth year, but I have since been able to cope with it by transforming these night terrors into a source of inspiration for my artwork.''
Bruno’s work is heavy with symbolism, giving viewers the ability to openly interpret the storyline and concept of each composition. ''Individuals who have experienced sleep paralysis will be able to pick up on the specific symbolism that I implement within my work, but I do not create my artwork specifically for them. I aim to give viewers, who have not experienced these night terrors, a visual taste of what lies within the in between realm of sleep and consciousness.''
The photographer speaks of waking up in the middle of the night to numerous ghastly scenes like a shadowy figure standing over him trying to strangle him, while being unable to move or scream. Alarmed, he began to write them down every morning as a way of remembering them. With the encouragement of his high school art teacher, he would also try to make sense of them. In the process of trying to find an explanation, the dreams became the focus of much of his work where photography is used as a means to bring the connections he has made alive.
Sleep paralysis is a hereditary phenomenon whereby the individual is conscious while being neither asleep nor truly awake and the body is temporarily unable to move. Like his father and his two uncles, Bruno explains that his mind continues to dream while the body is fast asleep and it is in this state that he has visual and auditory hallucinations ''…essentially dreaming while awake.'' The disturbing dreams have subsided somewhat since Bruno started to channel his anxiety through his work. The calming impact photography has on his condition and the inexhaustible material he obtains from the dreams mean he will be continuing the series for a while to come. ''I have many large scale set ideas in the works but I have yet to find funding for them.''
Carefully composed and beautifully executed, Nicolas Bruno’s disturbing images recall the work of the Surrealists; René Magritte’s in particular. Like Magritte, Bruno creates a highly unsettling sensation in the viewer by placing mundane objects in unusual places. To create this eerie atmosphere in his shots as well as his characters’ attire and props, the photographer draws on inspiration from the work of artists like Caravaggio, Jacques-Louis David and contemporary artistGilles Beloeil as well as history books and photography archives.
Terrified and fascinated by his visits to this horrifying dreamland, Bruno describes his work like an ''unsettling handshake with a stranger''. Once familiar on the other hand, it is like an open door to understanding who he really is.