Imagine waking up in the middle of the night, unable to move and being haunted by your worst nightmares? It’s what happens to those who suffer from sleep paralysis, like photographer Nicolas Bruno, known on Flickr as thewickedend. Nicolas endured these traumatic hallucinations for years. But over time, he learned that photography helped to control them.
Nicolas describes his photos to The Weekly Flickr in the accompanying video. “[They’re] dark, mysterious, and they’re all based on my personal experiences of literally being paralyzed with fear… I like [to] give the viewer a glimpse inside the strange and chilling quality of a nonsensical nightmare.”
Nicolas started experiencing sleep paralysis when he was fifteen years old.
“Sometimes when I would wake up, I’d have shadow figures and hands grabbing at my neck, and I wouldn’t be able to move.” Nicolas describes. “ Sometimes the room would shift, the walls would start melting and the windows would open and close. After not being able to move or scream, you’d just go along with the ride and have to experience it… no matter how terrifying it is.”
After a few years of these nightly experiences, Nicolas began to document them in a notebook. From the moment he woke up, he’d describe the figures he saw, as well as the mood and the state of helplessness he felt. Hours later, when he had a clear frame of mind, Nicolas would examine his dreams and try to make sense of it.
“During this time, I was in an art class, and my photography teacher would always push me to experiment with the things that [I] experience in my everyday life,” Nicolas says. “I took the opportunity to combine my sleep paralysis and my artwork, using it as more of a [form of] therapy; to recreate a bittersweet homage to my experiences during sleep paralysis.”
Nicolas’ shoots were always carefully thought out and well produced. He’d bring his notebook into the field: read it, underline specific things, analyze his surroundings and see if they could connect with each other. Nicolas’ ultimate goal was to express his written feelings into his photography by combining different experiences to create something new.
One example of this is a photo called INCUBU_S.
“There was a shadowy figure inside a box with lots of fog and skeletons everywhere,” Nicolas recalls. “I had a sleep paralysis dream of a small figure sitting in the corner of my room. I used that figure as the main subject of the picture. I also used the mood of like the smokiness and the fogginess of looking into the room, and expressed it in that manner.”
Many of the subjects Nicolas experienced in his sleep weren’t human, rather well dressed, oddly shaped and expressionless figures. He incorporated these haunting images in his photography as well as the use of props and costumes, such as: bowler hats, gas masks, antiques, etc. In the beginning, recreating and confronting his demons was difficult for Nicolas. After several photo shoots, to his surprise, Nicolas realized he was able to control his fears.
“When I create the photographs, it’s almost like experiencing it [his dreams] again, but in a different, more comfortable light,” Nicolas says. “I’m able to analyze it, not be paralyzed… and I’m able to move around and understand what I’m actually doing.”
Today, Nicolas says his sleep paralysis doesn’t happen as often, and he credits photography with helping to improve his emotional state. Now that he’s mentally aware of his dreams, they aren’t as terrifying anymore. And as a result, he’s created an incredible set of stunning photos.
“Photography is a medium where you can express irrational and rational thoughts, even dreams, through image,” Nicolas says. “And I use that to my advantage. I like to show what happens in my brain to everyone else. My artwork — it’s like an unsettling handshake with a stranger. It’s cold, strange, but once you get to know it, you’ll understand me.”
Visit Nicolas’ photostream to see more of his photography.
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