“What happens to lovers while they are sleeping?”
This is the question photographer Paul Schneggenburger asked as he began his project “The sleep of the beloved.”
Using the second room of his two-bedroom Vienna apartment as a studio, he set up black sheets on a mattress, lit by a string of Christmas tree lights. A self-constructed trigger outside the room started the 4×5 camera at midnight for each six-hour exposure and turned it off automatically at 6 a.m., before the sun rose. Schneggenburger was not in the room during the exposures.
“I’m fascinated by sleep,” the German-born photographer said. “What’s going on in the body; what’s going on in the mind?”
He was curious to find out how people behave when they’re asleep, whether there is any emotion between them.
“Is it a nocturnal lovers’ dance - which is not necessarily sensual, but rather a kind of unconscious act of tenderness - or are they turning their backs on each other?” Schneggenburger asks in the gallery’s press release.
He’s always surprised when he looks at the negatives. It’s curiosity that drives him to a concept, and in this case, the idea and creation went hand-in-hand.
Three years ago, he started the project by asking his friends to sleep for a picture, but eventually proposed the idea to strangers. It has been an intimate process. He asks them not to wear a shirt and opens the second bedroom of his home to them.
“On one hand it’s totally private,” he said. “On the other, it’s totally un-private.” He says that he can tell when some of his subjects had sex during the exposure, which is seen as a fog in the images.
Schneggenburger recognizes that the surrealistic pictures can be interpreted many ways.
“I’m not looking for answers,” he said. “I’m looking for pictures.”
He doesn’t want to associate names with the people in his photographs, because he doesn’t want it to seem too documentary-style.
While he feels that the project has come to a completion for his collection, he is still willing to photograph sleeping couples if they pay for the print.
The photographs will be on display at the Anzenberger Gallery in Vienna starting February 5.
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN