Ever thought of putting your dreams in images? Or, taking it one step further, even use mechanisms to turn your dreams into more vivid experiences and enlist them as your lieutenants in your image-creating process? I am sure I have done this on many occasions.
We've talked about creating images to communicate your inner obsessions and thoughts by being honest and just outing these through your images. Surrealism in photography has always been a target that many creators were striving to achieve in their images, simply because it is a quality that people can't help but be attracted to it. Anything out of the ordinary attracts us, so surrealism by definition could be considered an attractive quality.
Let's now bring everything together. We would like to have surrealism in our images, but we also need to be honest and express our own experiences and obsessions. Do we need to make up this surrealism out of our imagination? After all, how is it possible to make something surreal out of any real experience? Well, it is.
We have our dreams.
Every time we go to sleep we enter the world of dreams. During REM sleep conditions, we experience dreams. The dream is a real experience, but at the same time surreal. During a dream we can be anyone, we can do anything, hang out with dead people, fly and so on.
During dreams, what actually happens, simply put, is that your brain is trying to do some work while your conscious mind is not in high demand, arrange your thoughts and relocate your memories to their corresponding shelves.
Along this process, since you're not dead, you experience some "side effects", which are your dreams. You see images, and stories and you are able to experience them in full as if you live in this situation. If you think about it, everything that we feel, love, hate, fear, pain (physical or psychological), tickling, all our senses, and even seeing and hearing happens in and by our brain. Yes, we may have multiple sensors and input organs, such as nerves, eyes, ears, nose etc, but even though for example our eyes undertake the visual process, the actual resulting image takes place inside our brain. The same is true with everything else.
Thus, during a dream, ie while your subconscious has taken over your brain completely, your mind can create imaginary worlds and let you live inside them. A dream is not less real than reality. (This previous article may clarify that further).
During periods of your life so many things occupy your thoughts and make you obsess about them. These thoughts are the "thought blocks", that your brain has to arrange properly into your memory timeline during your sleep. As you know, we people do not remember everything in our life. That is because our brains have the amazing ability to throw away everything that they think is unnecessary. So at the time your brain is trying to sort and classify your day's experiences, it brings out previous experiences and memories that resemble the new ones you got. It then decides whether you've learnt something new that is useful for you, cleans it up and puts it on a new shelf or replaces something old in another.
All this process and memories brought out of their shelves and drawers create your night's beautiful dreams or nightmares. So a red light you saw in the morning, together with a bird that flew by while you were having your coffee, your high anxiety level and the fire you were close to some 20 years ago when you had similar anxiety levels, might give you a horrible nightmare where a flame-throwing red dragon is after you.
Sometimes your dreams might give you solutions, or even make you feel better at times when you are too stressed to be able to take conscious logical decisions about your actions during the day. Let me give you an example of that.
Lately, I have been experiencing a high level of stress while my income was low and I kept worrying about choosing the right path in my life. My stress was blurring my decision-making process which was resulting in more stress. One night, after a rather stressful day, I dreamt I was a medieval knight, a close friend of another knight who loved the princess of a kingdom. That knight had a rival, a villain sheriff who had power, money and the hots for the princess. The sheriff had managed to imprison my friend and it looked as if he would manage to achieve his goal, of marrying the princess. Myself, I had two options. I was offered a great place in the kingdom, by the sheriff's side, which would make everything easy for me and provide me with money and power. The other option would be to risk everything, including my head, to help the other knight escape and steal the princess. To achieve that, I would have to organise a mutiny and take down the sheriff and even the king. In the dream, I chose this second option and that gave me instant relief. I didn't get to see how the dream ended, but as soon as I made this decision, I knew I had already won. I started organising the mutiny and I felt as if I was flying, full of energy and motivation. I was even thinking by looking at the kingdom's civilians, how happy they would too be, once the mutiny started to take shape.
When I woke up in the morning, I felt so much relieved and stress-free. I knew that what I was doing was on the right path and although things may not seem ideal at the moment (remember the civilians?) they will become better as long as I stick to my plan (organise the mutiny). Therefore choosing the difficult path was the right thing to do, the same way a mutiny would be hard and painful but yield a happily ever after kingdom.
What more can you ask than dreams? You have the ability to actually experience and live in surreal worlds for some hours every day. These experiences can yield work that lives outside our world but speaks about it, similar to the story above about my time as a knight.
There are two main difficulties in the process of being inspired by dreams. For one, many people do not seem to remember what they dreamt about last night most of the time. Some do better, some do worse. Probably some people dream less than other people. I do not think that science has definite conclusions on that, but I guess it's a quite safe thing to assume. The second difficulty is that many people have dreams that have not too much to say, they lack surrealism, or good script and overall there is nothing interesting about them.
Let us address these two difficulties.
Normally, if we do nothing to reverse it, as the years go by, the fewer dreams we are able to remember when we wake up. There are so many things in your morning routine that make that worse. You see, your brain understands that dreams are side effects caused by their internal processes and by its nature tries to wipe them off. Does that ring a bell? How many times have you experienced an extremely vivid dream and after you woke up, you only remember some of it, quickly fading away? It slips your mind and you are not able to remember chunks of the dream. As minutes go by, or maybe a few hours, you completely forget about it and even if you want to describe it, there is nothing left to describe. You know you saw something but at first, you forget details: " - I was with my friend Chris, or wait, was it Bill...? " and then you forget "chapters" of the dream: " - We were inside a prison, but I can't remember how we came to be there...there was a car... I think...anyway... ".
You can do something to be able to keep remembering a vivid dream for a longer time. That process is valid for the times you remember more or less very few things about a dream you had but quickly fade away. What makes it fade away so quickly? The answer usually here is a rapid transition into the conscious world. Did you wake up by an annoying and loud alarm? loud noise by the neighbour? a telephone call? Are your kids shouting? Well, newsflash, this is a shock for your system. Your brain, governed by your subconscious, receives a stimulus by its sensors, demanding to instantly switch to consciousness because you might as well be in danger.
Your brain is now functioning at its full capacity to pull this off and wake you up in the best way possible*. So what it does, is prepare and inject you with a cocktail of hormones to provide you with a boost and, as you might expect, clear any memory buffer that keeps "junk" so that you are able to react to any possible situation. The first junk that goes away is your dreams. Any further action that requires your consciousness to function, brings the remembrance of your dream close to impossibility. What could that be? Picking up the phone, checking your Instagram, sitting upright too quickly and so on. The more your mind understands that it is less and less possible to go back to sleep, the more it tries to remove your important dream thoughts.
*I know some of you may argue that we only use 3% of our brain and all that jazz. That's bollocks and you are being stupid. You might as well believe in aliens living inside the earth's core. Most of the day we use 100% of our brain. Just google it. That is a myth that emerged from a series of unfortunate misunderstandings.
For the case of those who can't remember their dreams at all whatsoever, that probably occurred because you trained your brain too methodically to take them as junk. That is also why, as the years go by, gets worse and worse. You train too hard to achieve that. If you never took your dreams seriously or thought of them as a useful tool in your life, you managed to train your brain so effectively to have them removed automatically by the time you wake up. Don't worry, you can reverse that.
The next difficulty, of having dreams that you may remember, but are not interesting at all, probably is true because your life's stimuli are not that interesting either. If you are not in any trouble in your life, you sit in front of the telly all day, have a casual routine 9-5 job and so on... well what do you expect from your pauvre brain?
So finally, let's talk about solutions. How can we help our minds create vivid, interesting, surreal dreams, ones we can remember and implement those ideas in our image-making process?
Here is my process on that. A process I know to work from personal experience. You must first work on your sleeping habits. You need to have a good night's sleep in order to have good dreams.
- Your sleeping environment should be relatively cool because lower temperatures help your sleep.
- Don't eat for at least 3-4 hours before going to bed.
- Try to remove anything that may wake you up suddenly or make you want to use your conscious functions immediately. Place your mobile phone in a different room. That will keep you from grabbing it to check your social media. Remember to put your phone in aeroplane mode so that you don't get any calls.
- Try to work your way into being able to wake up yourself at approximately the time you want to, without the use of an alarm. If you definitely have to use one, make sure you choose one that gradually increases volume and wakes you up as smoothly as possible.
- When you open your eyes, do not sit up right away. Spend a few minutes thinking about what you dreamt of.
Now let's talk about how to train your brain back into understanding the importance of dreams and become once again able to remember them.
- Prepare yourself before going to bed. When you lie down, just before falling asleep, spend a few minutes concentrating on your wish to see a dream. Just say to yourself that you are determined to see a beautiful dream tonight and that tomorrow you will be able to remember all about it. Remember, that won't happen overnight. As with all things, you need to commit to that and work your way up in achieving it. After all, you spent so many years training your brain to the contrary.
- Keep a dream journal. That is so very much important. Keep a journal next to your bed with a pen. Every time you wake up to a dream, make it your habit and your obligation to take this journal and write about your dream in as much detail as possible. You can even make some drawings if you're good at it. Remember, don't do sudden moves. Take your journal calmly and write while lying down. Your mind may have the ability to remove the memory of your dream, but if you put it down on paper, you have the chance to catch up!
There are a lot more that we could discuss here, like for example lucid dreaming. I myself don't manage to do that - be able to control my dream - which would probably give you so many more possibilities. You could for one ask to open a door and in the room see the best photograph in the world. Your brain will create the best photograph according to your own thinking for you. However, by mastering the above process, you may as well manage to do that! Anyone who does, please let me know!
Finally, regarding the interestingness of your dreams, that requires your self-cultivation and development. You may need to start doing more interesting things in your life. Try to cultivate yourself in the art world. Start studying classical literature, painting, sculpture, classical music, jazz, opera, or anything that may spark your interest. Start even to watch movies that actually have something to say. Things that are considered masterpieces in the art world and you are being a snob about them, saying stuff like, "this movie is boring", "I hate opera, people are screaming there" and all that. Study them. Understand why you don't like them and understand why other people appreciate them. You will see that most of them are exactly that. Masterpieces. It's just that you are too stupid to understand it.
We all find excuses for how our life sucks and lacks things which give us inspiration, but we can all live in imaginary surreal worlds every day. We find excuses for how we lack time to work on our photography during our day, but we have enough hours to cultivate our inspiration each and every night.
Let's take our dreams and make them true, through art!