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In Search of Sleep

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The photographs in the series, In Search of Sleep are made with the historic cyanotype photographic process. They are toned to produce a warmer range of times than the standard cyanotype blue. I use self-portraiture to articulate personal narratives, which are often both nightmare and fantasy.
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  • In Search of Sleep
    by Emma Powell
  • From my earliest days I have had a difficult relationship with sleep, mainly to do with the fact that I am not very good at getting to it.  As a child I avoided it at all costs, especially at night. Most likely as a ploy to get me back to bed, my father used to tell me stories. They were not traditional children’s bedtime stories, but invented intuitively in the moment. They would begin in the real world on our quiet street in front of our clean white house. Soon we would travel down an open drain or more rarely up into the clouds. From there great caverns, forests, and ocean beaches would unfold one after another, full of unexpected animals and dangers.
     
    These stories did not have the organized arc of a pre-planned narrative, but were spontaneous and unpredictable. There was a particular importance given to animals. I remember they would occasionally speak and there were cameo appearances made by our house cats. The story would always find its way back to the real world and end where it had begun, hopefully but doubtfully with me that much closer to sleep.
     
    In my images there is a shadowy realm that manifests itself on the photographic page.  The cyanotype process, with its distinctive blue tones, visually traverses the distance between waking and sleeping. In this world I find myself searching to understand my everyday thoughts, from personal dramas to romantic doubts. Sometimes the questions are unclear or unimportant. Sometimes the image itself asks the questions. The metaphors that emerge  are both personal and universal.
     
    One of the factors that has led to my difficulty with sleep is the inability of my body to quickly process stimulants. I have to be cautious when drinking coffee or tea.  Cyanotypes are made from iron and cyanide; however, I tone them with tea and wine to dull the Prussian blue of the shadows and breathe warmth to the mid-tones and lighter areas.  Tea, wine, cyanide -- all three of these substances relate to different levels of consciousness that often mirror the mental states evoked by my photographs.  From waking, to sleeping, to dreaming, to death, the images comprising In Search of Sleep envision intuitive journeys through unexpected places. In the words of writer Rebecca Solnit, “Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in....”

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