Conceptual photographer Nicolas Bruno has suffered from sleep paralysis since he was 15. In confronting the visions, and feelings of fear and helplessness, that can accompany this phenomenon, Bruno has discovered that transposing the notes from his sleep-paralysis journal to his photoshoots provides him a powerful therapeutic outlet.
All photos featured by kind permission of Nicolas Bruno
Sleep paralysis tends to occur in that muddy transitional space between sleep and wakefulness, and is experienced as full body muscle weakness right as you're drifting off to sleep or right as you're waking up. It is often, as in Bruno's case, accompanied by terrifying visions. "I have experienced bone chilling hallucinations and extreme terror during these dreams," he tells io9. "Faceless silhouetted figures, embraces from shadow-like hands, warping of reality around me - all while [feeling] completely paralyzed."
Bruno eventually started jotting down notes about his visions and referencing them later to recreate their major components in beautifully composed photographs. "To obtain the full effect that I wish to achieve in my work, I use numerous strange props to convey conceptual meaning and mystery," he explains. Gas masks, bowler hats, lanterns, and an assortment of other odd props, he says, have become the trademarks of his work. "I also derive inspiration from classical and contemporary painters such as Caspar David Friedrich, Gilles Beloeil and Caravàggio." The result is a series of beautiful, haunting, otherworldly images that Bruno calls "a bittersweet homage" to his dream-world encounters.
He found the exercise to be therapeutic. "I've always been into photography, and it became my way of battering through my terrorizing sleep paralysis experiences and expressing my creative conscience in ways that I never thought I could," he says. "I became fascinated with the endless possibilities of conceptual photography and photo manipulation and developed my skills accordingly."
Bruno says one of the most rewarding things to come out of the creation of the series is the feedback he's heard from people who identify with his work. "I have been receiving numerous messages from individuals who have experienced sleep paralysis - whether they knew what it was or not - and were able to relate to my work and share their stories with me," he says. "It has been an absolutely amazing experience to interact with my viewers and relate to their sleep paralysis occurrences."