NICOLAS BRUNO: Art as a means to cope with illness. A rare form of sleep paralysis inherited from his father, which occurs a few minutes before falling asleep and during the awakening phase. Here begins a nightmare made of places, people and terrifying presences, where Nicolas Bruno becomes a helpless spectator. Only thanks to photography Bruno managed to partially exorcise his nightmares by reproducing himself the images fixed in his mind.
We had the pleasure to know him better and ask him some questions to understand his story.
For those who don’t know you yet, who is Nicolas Bruno?
I am an artist based in Long Island, New York, where I am creating surreal photographs depicting my experiences with Sleep Paralysis. This horrifying condition leaves you completely paralyzed in bed while visual and auditory hallucinations occur.
How would you describe in a few words sleep paralysis?
A typical sleep paralysis experience will begin with a low and resonating humming or static. I will awaken and attempt to move my limbs, and immediately realize that I am immobilized and unable to fight the situation. Any attempts to scream out or fight back worsen the wave of anxiety and fear that piles onto your chest like a pouring bag of concrete. The room begins to pulsate and faceless figures will begin to emerge from the corners of my room, either floating towards me or hovering at the foot of my bed.
Was photography already part of your life before you were diagnosed with sleep paralysis or is it a means that you discovered only after looking for a way to express your emotions?
I’ve had an intrigue in photography stemming back to my childhood, but I only began taking it seriously when I started using it as my therapy. It was a serendipitous chain of events that lead to the unification of my artistic intrigue and desperation for something to help ease the suffering.
If yes, what were the subjects of your pictures before photography became a way to express your fears?
My subject matter of choice gravitated towards images of urban exploration, abandoned rural areas and monochrome portraits. I was attached to the harsh contrast that occurred when light pierced into the voids of a decaying building, which illuminated the textures and forgotten objects within.
In some pictures we can see other people, who are they? Do they always understand and are able to put into reality what you experienced?
I use a layering process to become multiple models in certain scenarios, but when I am not modelling for multiple characters, I will have close friends and family become a part of my creations. I find it important to have loved ones be a part of my work, because they are the only ones who truly understand what I am experiencing.
When you have hallucinations you experience them for yourself, but then clearly you represent them in third person, in other words from a different point of view. Does it help you to put a gap between you and your fears?
Transforming my visions into works of art helps me encapsulate the flowing thoughts and fears that linger after experiencing a sleep paralysis episode. Modelling for my characters and putting myself into chaotic concepts and situations almost reflects the calamity that occurs in each dream. Each photo session feels as if I am reliving the dream, but instead of having no control, I can manipulate my surroundings and become the conductor of my visions. It is truly liberating.
How much did photography and art help you in coping with sleep paralysis?
When I started suffering from sleep paralysis, I had no way to express what I was seeing and feeling each time I went to sleep. After keeping a dream journal for a while, I was able to turn my experiences into symbols and concepts that were visual translations of my suffering. I was finally able to share my dreams to the world, which helped me receive feedback and reassurance that I am not the only one seeing these visions. Photography became my way of turning my negative dreams into something tangible and positive.
How do you find the location to reproduce your nightmares?
When searching for locations, I travel to where I used to explore as a child with my friends and family. These areas have sentimental value to me, and I feel most comfortable expressing myself in these environments. The town where I live has a large variation of terrain, ranging from muddy coastal marshlands to winding woodlands.
Do you have a frequent hallucination or do you experience every time a different situation, a new one?
My hallucinations can reoccur, but they often morph and change their dynamics. I see a lot of characters that are familiar, such as a woman in a dress, a man in a hat, a large framed man, and sets of hands. Different elements of hallucinations have emerged over the past few years and continue to surprise me each time.
Which was the hallucination that affected you the most? Can you tell us?
My first experience with the”Old Hag” figure truly stands out as the most physically and emotionally draining experience that I’ve ever had. Upon waking into the paralysis, I felt a presence in the room which sent me into panic. In my peripheral vision, I spotted a figure of a woman in a dress that loomed in the corner of the room by the doorway. This realization sent my mind racing with fear. Immediately, I attempted to scream and break out of the paralysis, but as I took action, I was instantly grappled by a plethora of shadow hands that protruded from under my covers, bracing me to the bed. My attempt at escaping caused the woman to shriek with eardrum bursting static. She began her journey towards my bedside by hovering ominously across the room. I felt a suffocating pressure building as she moved towards me. After what seemed like a half hour of fighting with the woman’s tormenting scream and energy, I broke free from the paralysis and escaped to the lower level of my house. Little did I know, I was still dreaming. The dream lapsed into a second sleep paralysis episode that repeated with more intensity and horrific sensation.
For those who would like to admire your works, where can we find them?
I will be having a solo exhibition at Haven Gallery of Northport, New York in February of 2019. Details will be released on my social media outlets this autumn.
Interview by RH
Translated by Erika Orlando
Nicolas Bruno website: