“Dreams have no behavior. It would always exist in the dreams of that boy the primitivism of his existence.” (Manoel de Barros)
ome things are invisible to the naked eye. They occur either too quickly or too slowly to really be seen. Or they take place in the dark and our eyes are physically incapable of perceiving them. Other things are invisible, simply, because it would be inappropriate to look for too long, an invasion of privacy. When I first set up my cameras in the bedrooms of a number of friends, it was clear that I would be imposing. I would be violating a space and time meant to be shared only with those who are very close, such as mothers or lovers. Some even refused outright to go through the experience of lying in their beds with two lenses pointing at their faces. Others, very generously, shared their dawns with the cold focus of my lenses. At the beginning, some even dreamed about the cameras and my presence yet, as the days passed, everything was forgotten and the changes that I had brought about seemed to blend into the environment. After several nights watching over others as they slept, I noticed a curious common characteristic when I showed them some of the images from the night before. They reacted as if I were showing them themselves for the first time or, even, as if they were surprised at seeing themselves for the first time in a mirror, while I was a privileged spectator observing them. Perhaps because of this, as I looked at my first portraits, it became very clear to me that sleeping and being awake are different ways of existing. It is practically impossible, given our conscious and watchful state, not to ‘pose’ for a photo. Even before the image appears in the photograph, our reaction in front of the camera is to ‘fabricate’ or ‘sell’ an image of ourselves, like a advertising image. This image consciousness, however imperceptible, creates social masks in all of us, which are hard to penetrate or remove. Except when we sleep… Over a year and a half I visited more than 70 people in their homes, collecting images and dreams. The images produced by the long exposures tell the stories of those nights which, like dreams, are superimposed, in various layers, and create the impression of enigmas to be deciphered. When we open our eyes, nothing remains except impressions and reverie, fragmented images, premonitions…
I’ve been asked a few times when or why I decided to start photographing people sleeping and I still don’t know how to fully answer that question. The best answer I come up with is that maybe there is a voyeuristic curiosity in addition to a search for what’s “invisible” in the projects I’ve been developing. When I say “invisible,” in big quotes, I am referring both to what our eyes are unable of capturing for physical reasons (because it happens too quickly or too slowly, or because it happens in the dark) and what would be inappropriate to look at for very long (an invasion of privacy).
A lot of research and plenty of tests went into trying to find the best way to conduct this test. At first, I thought of doing a single long exposure of an entire night of sleep. As exposures over the course of several hours are not suitable for digital cameras, I had to do it with negatives first, which I had to import and ended up covering in the X-ray.
First tests done at home with negative film
But that’s not why I gave up on them. It was because the experience showed me, through various unforeseen events (people who forgot about the cameras and turned on the lights in the middle of the night) and invasions of privacy (couples’ fights, sex while the cameras were recording, etc.), that I needed a large volume of photos to guarantee at least one usable image the next day. The inconvenience of assembling (and disassembling) the entire structure involved in people’s homes was enormous and, when for some reason the photos from the night before had to be discarded, the subjects themselves reversed roles and were embarrassed by all the energy and work lost when, actually, I was the one who should apologize, as I was dealing with great intimacy of the generous models. That’s why I ended up going back to digital, which gave me the security of not having to scrap an entire night’s worth of captured images, even if I did lose one or two exposures. Finally, to prevent the overheated CCDs from causing irreparable grain and color noise in the photo, or even jeopardizing the integrity of the actual sensor, I was advised by Canon to carry out exposures of a maximum of 15 minutes, subsequently resting for 15 minutes in order to cool down. So I bought an intervalometer and decided that the long exposure of multiple hours that I wanted at the beginning of the project could be achieved or controlled later with various overlays of digital images.
Negative film fogged and greenish because of the X-Ray exposure when imported
Throughout this entire experience, a few things struck me more than others. First, no one is indifferent to a camera in their own bedroom, in a place and at a time that is perhaps one of the most sacred in our society in terms of privacy. I’m not just taking about the paraphernalia invading the setting, but because many people even dreamed about the camera. Sometimes I even showed up in their dreams, as can be seen in the notebook I left for them to register their fantasies the next morning. Right away, though, on the second night of the photo, that initial strangeness seemed to dissipate and they showed themselves to be incredibly adapted. But, one of the things that surprised me the most was the way people have a curiosity and a lack of knowledge about the way they sleep. Whenever I arrived the next day to change the batteries and reprogram the cameras they had a certain anxiety in seeing themselves sleeping and, when I started showing them the images, they expressed great surprise due to their positions, expressions, sudden changes during the night, etc. In an extreme case, someone actually discovered that her dog slept with her through the image. They were very curious, funny moments. Today, I think I should have recorded those reactions. But the main sensation that stays with me from these meetings is that, in one way or another, I introduced those people to themselves for the first time.
Finally, I can only thank all those people I photographed who allowed me to see the project through to the end for their patience and cooperation.
The logistics for the photos: tripods, lights and cameras mounted throughout the rooms