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This Artist Captures the Nightmare of Sleep Paralysis in Haunting Photos

Fine art photographer Nicolas Bruno has suffered from the terrifying condition known as sleep paralysis for 10 years. Therapy for the condition ultimately led him to creative expression as a way to cope with the affliction, as he discusses with VICE’s Creators Project in this video.

Sleep paralysis is a nightmarish condition that occurs while falling asleep or on awakening, leaving the sufferer completely but temporarily paralyzed. Unable to move, speak, or scream, the condition is often accompanied by vivid hallucinations.

This is the condition Bruno suffers from, and when he first began to deal with it, he turned to the Internet for answers. In his research, he stumbled across The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli (1978), a classic depiction of sleep paralysis and its associated terrors. This work of art inspired him:

Henry Fuseli – The Nightmare (1781)

The realization that he was not alone in his suffering inspired the teenage Bruno to reach out to one of the teacher at his school, who told him to start sketching as a form of release and as a way to confront his antagonists in a tangible way. Bruno took it one step further.

The result of this therapy are these beautiful, haunting composites in which Bruno casts himself both as the victim and adversary. “I definitely know when I’m in one or the other world,” he tells Creators. “I try to create that purgatory within the images that I create”.

Nicolas Bruno – Compleanno
Nicolas Bruno – Compleanno
Nicolas Bruno – Sventura
Nicolas Bruno – Sventura

Bruno explains how he captured the image below, titled The Escape Artist.

In my process for the image, I am all three of these characters. I am able to achieve that by putting my camera on my tripod and having a continuous shutter release, so while the camera continuously shoots, I’m able to become these different characters.

Growing up in a coastal town, Bruno’s images are influenced by memories of spending time by the sea, in the marshlands, and amidst sprawling fields. His Italian heritage inspires his choice in titles, while his admiration of art history plants subliminal seeds of artist tributes throughout his imagery.

Nicolas Bruno – The Escape Artist
Nicolas Bruno – The Escape Artist
Nicolas Bruno – Sorgere
Nicolas Bruno – Sorgere
Nicolas Bruno – Circondato
Nicolas Bruno – Bramosia
Nicolas Bruno – Bramosia
Nicolas Bruno – Bramosia
Nicolas Bruno – Bersaglio
Nicolas Bruno – Bersaglio
Nicolas Bruno – Tetro
Nicolas Bruno – TetroTetro

To hear a short interview and see a little bit of behind-the-scenes action from one of Bruno’s shoots, check out the video at the top. And if you want to see more of Bruno’s work or learn more about the Northport, New York-based artist, you can find him at his Instagram, Facebook and his personal website.


Image credits: Photographs by Nicolas Bruno and used with permission.

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