THE SLEEPWALKERS is a work-in-progress, interrupted by Covid-19.
Continuing my ongoing exploration of the transformative power of inner emotion, I began a series of photographs of people in hypnotic trances. Often hypnosis is regarded either as a party trick or a technique to cure various bad habits like smoking, or phobias like the fear of going to the dentist. However, I learned from previous projects like THE SLEEPERS and THE NARCISSISTS, if people are placed in a safe emotional space, often a complex interior world will reveal itself. My idea was to provide a group of subjects the opportunity to access a private, hidden state of mind, and to create photographic portraits of their transformations.
THE SLEEPWALKERS project is intended to be a cycle of 12-20 cyanotype images of people in an unconscious emotional state paired with a cycle of 12-20 pigment prints of the earth being transformed by extreme upheaval--burning, exploding, frozen, flooded, fractured. As I began to explore and photograph this aspect of the project, the world was suddenly transformed in a way that was totally unexpected, and work on my project has temporarily been postponed.
I worked with a trained hypnotherapist to try and create an environment conducive to emotional exploration. I interviewed dozens of people to find subjects who were open to probing some aspect of their inner life. Each one had to be willing to be naked and unprotected both emotionally and physically. I photographed people without clothes so as not to distract from the transformations they were enacting.
Before beginning each session, each subject was asked to describe a transformation that they would like to experience. Transformations ranged from wanting to access a memory, to inhabiting the body of another creature, to entering into another state of nature. One woman wanted to feel like she was surrounded by a crowd of people who were jostling her. Another subject wanted to re-experience telling his mother he was gay. Someone else wanted to float in the sea as he did as a child. What was striking to me is how little the actual physical transformations resembled the original idea, although it was clear that every subject was having a profoundly intense experience.
Each session began with the subject, fully clothed, lying down on a soft bed in my studio. The hypnotist sat in a chair by their side, slowly guiding them into a trance. This often took more than an hour, as he gently, rhythmically, and slowly led them deeper and deeper inside themselves. At the end of the long session, the hypnotist reminded them of the transformation they chose, before snapping his fingers and awakening them.
Fully awake, each subject was asked to remove their clothes, and stand in front of a black wall, in an area that had been pre-lighted with strobe lights. Since I used an 8 x 10 view camera to shoot the photographs, I was unable to see through the lens if the subjects moved out of the frame so I placed tape marks on the floor indicating the parameters of the shooting space. At that point, the hypnotist snapped his fingers again, and the subject went into a deep trance a second time, acting out a deeply personal inner vision.
Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print. Originally discovered in the 1840’s, cyanotype was one of the first non-silver methods of reproducing photographic images. It was primarily used as a copying technique, often to create architectural drawings. Like many modern artists I was drawn to the extraordinary beauty and richness of the blue color, which enabled me to convey layers of emotion in an otherworldly, abstract way.
Cyanotypes are made by placing a negative directly onto a hand-coated piece of watercolor paper, with no enlargement possible, then exposing it to light. The final cyanotypes were printed with 30 x 40 inch black and white negatives, created digitally from my original 8 x 10 inch color negatives.