Sleep. It is the portal into another world, a shadow self, a space that exists inside the mind, so far beyond any dimension we’ve known before or may known since, for it is in this way that we take flight inside out bodies, leaving them aside as we explore new and fertile earth. And here upon this plane they lay, not simply inert, but in their own passages through time and space, telling their very own story.
And because we are inside, we cannot see, sleep is like our face, our visage for all to see but we to whom it belongs. We never quite know until we stand before the evidence of who we are when we are both in and outside of this world. It is then that a work like Sleep by Ted Spagna, Edited by Delia Bonfilio and Ron Eldridge with Martynka Wawrzyniak (Rizzoli New York) comes to the fore, to show us how it is, how we live, how similar and dissimilar, how familiar and foreign.
Here we see sleep through stop motion photography, which reminds me of how I light I sleep, awakening to every change in my space. The other night I lay in bed frequently awoken by a snore that was not my own and when I opened my eyes, we had both moved. New positions, over and over again. The choreography of the unconscious in continuous motion, and me, I’m taking note and smiling at how right before the sun arises, he has the covers gathered up under his chin.
And in these positions, he tells stories, stories I don’t know, in the very same way Spagna photographs capture a plot as it unfolds. It is said that gesture does not lie, and so when we look at each and every frame we find the mind in body as it responds to the travels of the mind and wherefore it goes, we can only imagine for the land of the unconscious is more a poem than an essay or a speech. It is both linear and not in that rhythm follows measure and time, just like music and dance.
Sleep then becomes a performance of sorts, private dancer to no one and nothing except the Lord up above. Or not. Hard to know, until gazing upon these grids, frame after frame after frame, each one a slight variation on a theme, a gesture that is created out of biological necessity. When looking at the body in this way, we see a kind if floating, a swimming, a movement through space that has nothing whatsoever to do with our upright nature.
As Dr. Allan Hobson writes in “The Influence of Science,” an essay which appears in the book, “Ted Spagna’s photographs have done more than any other medium to make sleep science visible and, hence, directly understandable to the general public…. Whether or not Spagna’s sleep portraits capture a hidden self, they are unquestionably surprising in their revelations of sleep as behavior—especially the tenderness of sleeping couples—and they are unquestionably visually rich, owing to Spagna’s meticulous concern with photographic technique.”
Spagna’s photographs reveal sleep as nothing so much as an adventure we barely fathom, as memories of out time in the shadow world fade int the light of day. Yet we engage, night after night after night, and for some, it is never not enough. And for others, it has become far too much. But there it is.
Sleep is that which we do in ways we do not know, until we reflect and study ourselves, investigate a world we all go, a world we all know, a world we can but barely begin to describe and it is in this way that Spagna’s photographs contribute to the vocabulary of sleep and build a dialogue, giving us a new means upon which to reflect and consider this world in which we live.