The intimacy of sleep is a subject mainly found in snapshots as opposed to fine art photography, writes Robert E. Jackson. The reason is that to be a witness to such an action, the person holding the camera generally must have a close association with the person sleeping– such as being a friend, lover, or family member. There is a vulnerability to being caught unawares in the act of sleeping, yet there is also a beauty to which these images attest. While voyeuristic in nature, these photos derive from a sense of play- one of the defining aspects of snapshot photography. Such a relationship between subject and photographer as a dualistic (i.e. two person) act of creating a photographic image is pretty much eliminated now in snapshots, as selfies are all about the photographer and the subject being the same person. Part of the “me” of the contemporary photographic narrative as opposed to the “we” of older snapshots.
While you were sleeping you tossed you turned
You rolled your eyes as the world burned
The heavens fell the earth quaked
I thought you must be but you weren’t awake
– Elvis Perkins – While You were Sleeping
These woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
– Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
“To die, to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come…”
– Hamlet, Act III, Scene I, by William Shakespeare
When I wake up early in the morning
Lift my head, I’m still yawning
When I’m in the middle of a dream
Stay in bed, float up stream (float up stream)
Please, don’t wake me, no, don’t shake me
Leave me where I am, I’m only sleeping
– The Beatles, I’m Only Sleeping
“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”
– Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote
“Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
– Dylan Thomas, In Country Sleep, and Other Poems
More from the excellent Robert E. Jackson here – and on his Instagram page.
Would you like to support Flashbak?
Please consider making a donation to our site. We don't want to rely on ads to bring you the best of visual culture. You can also support us by signing up to our Mailing List. And you can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For great art and culture delivered to your door, visit our shop.