By Sophia Ricco
Imagine waking from sleep, not being able to move a muscle as visions of fears take over your sight, a scary scenario that has plagued local artist, Nicolas Bruno.
The Northport photographer has suffered from sleep paralysis from a young age, a condition that renders a person immobile, despite being consciously awake. Those who experience it cannot move or speak, feel pressure on their chest and will at times hallucinate frightening scenes. Bruno has channeled these experiences into his art as a form of therapy. This month, his latest exhibit, “In Limbo” will be shown at Haven Gallery in Northport until Mar. 31.
“My whole body of work is based on my experiences with sleep paralysis and how I transform them from something negative into positive artwork,” Bruno said.
This is Bruno’s first year in his own studio and feels he finally has “complete freedom” with his process and art. This will be his first time exhibiting sculptures and drawings of characters he met in dreams. He also recently debuted a jewelry collection directly inspired by his work.
“I’m really excited to share what I’ve been working on for the past year,” Bruno said. “I’ve been exploring a lot of deeper themes in my work, along with different mediums and creating new costumes and props.”
Bruno chose the title “In Limbo” because he believes it encapsulates the feeling of being stuck during sleep paralysis.
“With sleep paralysis, you’re stuck between the world of being awake and asleep,” Bruno said. “You’re just waiting for this horrible experience to end and you can’t do anything because you’re frozen in your bed.”
For this exhibit, Bruno went even deeper into his theme of sleep and dreams. His dark images pull inspiration from his own dreams and visions. He keeps in a dream journal in which he can sketch or jot down a few words after waking up.
“This helps me to express the feelings I’ve went through that are almost impossible to describe with words,” Bruno said. “Art is my universal voice to speak to anybody across the world.”
Many of Bruno’s photographs carry the dark presence of a nightmare and represent scenes he has witnessed while paralyzed in bed.
“To make these crazy, chaotic themes, I normally have to build everything,” Bruno said. “You can’t just buy something like a wishing well, I have to figure out how to create it myself. I would get insulation foam, then carve and paint it or I’ll pick up wood off the side of the road and repurpose it.”
Although Bruno outlines themes for his body of work, the artist wants viewers to make their own conclusions about pieces.
“I think it’s fun to explore the personal aspects of it,” Bruno said. “But I do leave it open to interpretation, since everyone interprets a dream differently.”
Bruno will often serve as his own model, immersing himself back into the scary scenes his mind has created. He will set up his camera on a tripod, then start an interval timer that snaps a picture every few seconds as he rearranges his poses and props.
“I almost relive these chaotic experiences because I’m wading through a murky pond or I have a mask on my face or maybe I’m bound in rope,” Bruno said. “But instead of not having any control, I have complete control of the scenario and can relive the experience with control, while creating something positive.”
Growing up on Long Island, Bruno has used his surroundings as a backdrop for his eerie images. His favorite environments to shoot in take him deep into the woods, marsh lands or by the ocean.
“I like to revisit areas that I went to as a child and found inspiration or comfort in going to,” Bruno said. “I remember when I was younger, my friends and I would run around there making up stories.”
Since he was a young boy, Bruno has been capturing images and ignited his passion with a disposable camera. But it wasn’t until he took art classes in high school that he realized this was a subject he excelled in.
“At the time, I was really just not sleeping, I would stay up for two days in a row, just because I would be afraid to go back to bed,” Bruno said. “Art was really my outlet.”
Bruno hopes his work reaches those who suffer from sleep paralysis, who can relate and be inspired to possibly work through the disorder with their own “pleasant therapy.” In the future, he would like to create a Virtual Reality experience that shows people what sleep paralysis feels like. To view his work visit nicolasbrunophotography.com.