Voices and Sleep (Assignment 1, 151MC)

I am aiming to present this work and create artefacts that inform people about a life that includes hearing voices. I am looking to create an understanding of voices and the role they play in everyday life. I am not looking for an emotion such as sympathy or admiration for people who hear voices but rather a stepping stone to normalise the experience of hearing voices and to bring the two worlds closer together. I looked at how voices affect peoples sleep. Voices often cause people to wake up in the night and then they find it difficult to fall back asleep. I am interested in documenting this.


I looked at a book called, The Body at Risk (Photography of disorder, illness and healing). The book shows photography exploring ways that photojournalists visualized humans with both good and bad health. I feel that the photos in here have been taken with a pre-conception and idea of how these people should be portrayed. I want to produce a more factual and truthful account of mental health and hearing voices.


First I took a look at a photographer who works with the idea of sleep, Sophie Calle, who did the project, The Sleepers. 

The main elements of her work consist of a very truthful and unflattering view of the sleeping people. The images are not posed and are taken how she found them and from a very intimate angle. In my work, I want to create a very factual view of voices and sleep. I do think that the truthful side of Calle’s work is an important aspect for me to take away from this. Truthful = Factual.


I then looked at the photographer Paul Schneggenburger, who invited people to sleep in his bed setup in his studio and took a long exposure of them from midnight until 6am. He was looking at the relationship between couples and how their sleep might hint at how some couples seem close and others do not. From this I would like to use the technique of long exposure to show me waking up again and again in the night.

I shot some images of my own.

I managed to mirror her approach and improve on her use of the truthful and unflattering aspect. I took a self portrait every time I woke up. I had my camera on a tripod and used a release trigger cable with a timer. Every time I woke up, I pressed the trigger and then turned back over or just continued doing what I was doing. Because I had only just woken up, It meant that the images were as truthful as could be and I wasn’t concerned with how I looked for the camera. However, there was still a very personal and intimate approach to my images, similar to Sophie Calle’s work. I would prefer to create work that didn’t have this intimate feel. I found a device called a FitBit, which records your activity during the day and also has a sleep setting. I wore this for a few days and then screen shot the graphs.

I found a process that reminds me of my graph from my FitBit, it is a mouse tracking process that draws a track in a graph format. It reminded me of my FitBit graph because of the very factual yet visual representation of something active. The mouse track below was by Liisi Tamm.

Liisi TammHaving done some preliminary graphs, I asked my new friend, who hears voices to wear the FitBit when he slept. I offered to show him the graphs afterwards which might help with his knowledge of his sleep patterns and how much he actually sleeps. He told me that his voices often wake him up by saying – “Oi you, wake up *whistles*.” Unfortunately he told me that the watch kept falling off in the night time, so I had a look on the computer but there was no data at all from his sleep. I decided to use my own sleep graphs instead. I had a group tutorial today and I asked if anyone had an idea of what I could do with the graphs now. My lecturer pointed out that when waking up there was no real sign of disruption. image4

Firstly, I painted a practice graph (not accurate) on a canvas. I deliberately made it slightly wonky and messy to symbolise sleep being wonky, messy, unpredictable and broken up.

I then made cuts using a craft knife in the canvas at points where sleep was disturbed.

At first the idea of using liquid emulsion occurred to me that I could use it on my hearing voices box to add photographs, however, I had the idea to use this with my sleep graph and canvas. Before I try liquid emulsion, I thought I should research into it first, how to do it as well as other artists who use this in their work.


Julia Boyd is an artist who uses liquid emulsion in her work.

To learn more about liquid emulsion, I read the book, Silver Gelatin: A user’s guide to liquid emulsion photographic emulsions. It had lots of information in it including emulsion coating, composition of emulsion as well as printing and processing.
It really helped me successfully start to do liquid emulsion.

I decided to practice on wood first, partly incase I decide to use it for my hearing voices box but party because I can experiment first to find out the best technique. The first few came out black but then I decreased the time after doing a test print on wood to see the correct exposure. I think the one below came out really well and clear and contrasty. I am pleased with it.


I then tried using liquid emulsion on my canvas of the graph. I painted the emulsion on and left it to harden. I then exposed my image multiple times just to see how it would turn out and how it would look.


I want to expand on this graph idea further, I had a look at some artists to try to get inspiration and take aspects and techniques away from their work and use them to make mine better.


Claxton cuts into and manipulates postcards of historical paintings and really transforms them. She explores ways of seeing and what can be perceived. She manipulates the top layer of the postcard and explores relationships between the characters as well as between the subject and the viewer. Claxton’s work reminds me of me cutting through the sleep and disturbing the sleep cycle. Perhaps I could explore links between the cuts representing breaks in a dream?


Briggs talks about his work and says that, “The montage is a way of clashing alternative visual realities and time frames, of juxtaposing different ways of seeing.”


I saw Cockburn’s work in Walsall Art Gallery and was really inspired by it. Cockburn works with found images from the 1940’s and embroiders onto them to create something new and truly exciting. She states that, ‘I never engage with a blank canvas. Rather, I enter into the pre-existing conversations present in strangers’ photographs…and begin playing with an experimental and personal visual language. The photos are all very posed and the sticking adds something dynamic and eye catching to the existing photograph. The stiching, although dynamic, is very precise and delicate. The images appear futuristic however the hand stitching that she executes to produce this work is going out of fashion. This is an affective use of juxtaposition.



I then made some liquid emulsion canvas prints of other images. First I made on of a night mare that My Second Interviewee told me that he had, Its of a man with a pitchfork coming to get him. I put that on as a representation of sleep and would cut it up to show where the nightmare was broken up by voices.


I then made a liquid emulsion canvas print of me covering my ears to represent trying to block out and cope with voices. It represents the turmoil of not being able to sleep.



I found this liquid emulsion collage on google images and it really inspired me.



I decided to try making a pinhole camera. I wanted to expose my sleep from the moment I went to bed to the moment I woke up. I made the pinhole camera around my canvas with liquid emulsion on. I had to build it in the darkroom and then tape it up with black duck tape to seal any holes. I exposed it when I went to bed and then taped it back up when I got out of bed in the morning. I developed it in the darkroom but it was overexposed. Due to the little time I have left to complete this project, I decided to try a different approach.


I then decided to try it digitally. I tried a preliminary experiment of 30 seconds exposure of me tossing and turning. I then turned it into a negative image in photoshop and printed it out on acetate. I then exposed it as a contact sheet onto my liquid emulsion coated canvas and developed it in the darkroom. Although it did not work very well I can see what I have done wrong and know what to improve – I need more recognisable images.

Sleep long exposure negative

Sleep image on emulsion


A song particularly inspired me as its always the song I listen to when I cant sleep. It’s called, Home by Alexi Murdoch. It reminds me of insomnia, feeling like you will never get out of it and panicking when your awake whilst everyone else sleeps soundly. It feels like your trapped, with nothing to run from and nowhere to hide. Adding voices on top of this feeling is even worse and can cause a lot of distress.

I then tried using a nikon D700 to take an image every minute whilst I slept so then I could paste them together in photoshop and reduce the opacity of each one to create an accurate account of my sleep. This is the negative image which I had printed onto acetate to make a contact print onto the dried photographic emulsion.

Negative long exposure sleep

Final Piece

I want my final piece of work to combine this image record of my sleep, printed on photography emulsion on a canvas, with the Fitbit sleep graph, with slits in to allow the light through. It will be a combination of this image and the object below.

Positive long exposure sleep 2