The Analog Identity

I never rest. Dreams are fragments to me of undercover lives; these lives lived, under covers, atop bedspreads, wear worlds only slightly off from the world in which I am writing this now. The realities are difficult to separate sometimes, twisting in me like bedsheets enduring a sleeping nightmare or a white-knuckled waking one. I have dreams from which I wake only to find myself in others, retelling earlier journeys into my subconscious. So the layers go and fold and fall into and unto themselves—a labyrinth, a maze. Amazing, how at the heart of all these corridors I have not yet found the minotaur.

Or maybe it has found me.

Sleeping has always been contentious for me. Lullabies, warm milk, tea, little drew my little eyes closed. Most of it is sickness; I know that. I experience the world differently than most people, afraid to sleep, or too restless or too agitated to sleep, and I see things other people do not see.

Acknowledging a world invisible to most regardless of reputability understandably creates a rift between the world and myself. I have been outcasted my entire life, desperately trying to draw bridges to connect with other human beings or differences that made me “special” instead of a “freak” in other people’s eyes. Developing my skills as an artist helps with this, but the bridge never quite lands the right way.

Still, photography, in particular, is a channel.

Photography is a channel in which the ethereality of my vision can explode. I can’t replicate the hallucinations, but the art is where my dreams meet the horizon of this world. I can catch glimpses of old things here: ghosts and shadow men, the signature of self that remains in space after one moves—I can see the hauntings of reality here, skulking in the darkness, hanging in the corners of my bedroom walls, greeting my mind’s eye in an instant image or a 35mm frame.

Analog photography seduces ghosts like nothing else. It woos them into the photograph and holds them there. They try to escape, but it’s often too late: The film has captured the ghost’s very essence; its light; its being; its soul.

It preserves the fluidity between my dreams and realities in a way that I can safely lose myself in. It keeps the boundaries flexible enough to bend, but they do not break; and that is an asset to me that I crave and need in my creative, professional, and emotional life.

Photography, too, particularly analog, is an expression of light in a world of darkness or, moreover, like in my life, a catch of light in an almost-black room. If you hold the shutter open long enough in a very dark place, light will eventually get in. That might be what attracts me to it so much: The idea that with patience and observation—almost like with the right cognitive patterns, as suggested in therapy—I can find hope in the murky thicket of my illnesses, my trauma, and my world.

Perhaps to take film photographs is to sleepwalk. It feels like it sometimes, moving through dreams; running through heavy water or sand—do you know that feeling? It is like a slow-motion film taken during an August dusk when everything is slow and muted. I hear my heartbeat when I shoot sometimes. I feel my pulse. I hear my breath. I feel every bone and muscle in my body, but it’s stranger than that. It’s a sleepy hyperawareness that leads me to believe I am alive but part of some other world. I am not here. I am drifting between realities and dreaming many dreams.

I will say it again, then: I never rest. I go from one world to another, whether asleep or awake. I am always moving from dream to dream to reality to dream again. Photography is an art, an expression, a coping skill. It is an identity, and analog photography even more of myself. What we live with is not always our choice, but what we do with it is what makes us who we are, and a large part of me is a photographer.