Being a writer first and a film photographer second, I’m drawn to images and visual art that have stories to tell. For years, I’ve struggled to come up with projects that bear the qualities I’ve always found fascinating when it comes to photography. I wanted to make something that was visceral, emotional, and deeply personal.
I think I’ve finally got one.
Phobetor came to me as a passing thought after recalling an article I wrote about Arthur Tress. It made me think of my own dreams and nightmares, and how I could translate them into visual stories. The chance came soon after I met visual and performance artist Paolo Dumlao.
Paolo is young, bold, and creative, but he has a tortured soul from battling depression and bipolar disorder. When he’s not, he’s out giving talks about mental health and doing performance art.
I met him during one of these talks. As my interview with him progressed, my mind raced with the possibility of doing a collaboration with him. I mentioned it before we parted ways, and he said he’s always open to creative projects. All that was left was for me to come up with an idea for a shoot. I ended up seeking inspiration from my love for Greek Mythology to tell a story about two of my strangest nightmares.
In Greek Literature and Metamorphoses, Phobetor was the god of nightmares and one of Oneiroi, the sons of Nyx (the goddess of the night) and personifications of dreaming. Also known as Icelus, his brothers include Hypnos (Sleep), Morpheus (Dreams), Thanatos (Death), and Geras (Old Age). Traditionally, it’s Morpheus who specializes in appearing in human form. While Phobetor is an expert in appearing as various animals in dreams, he’s also in charge of nightmares and nighttime fears. Here, I imagine him “borrowing” Morpheus’ craft for a night, appearing less menacing but still unsettling.
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One of my nightmares was about a floating white hand/glove that kept beckoning me out of my room, and was part of an interesting mix of a lucid dream and false awakening. The other was a faceless man who kept appearing in my recurring dreams; He would either be backlit so I couldn’t see his face, or I would wake up just as he would turn his face towards me.
For this visual story, I thought of only one film to use with my Nikon FE2: Kodak EASTMAN DOUBLE-X 5222 exposed at 400 ISO. After getting great results with my first try, I wanted the iconic film’s contrasty, cinematic look for Phobetor. I’m glad that I did, and I can’t see doing this project with other films.
On a final note, this project wouldn’t have been a proper collaboration with Paolo’s input. And by that, I don’t mean simply posing before me throughout the shoot. Having given him my ideas and the imagery I had in mind, he also gave me suggestions about the props and make-up that he has that we could use for the shoot.
The white theater make-up that he used on his face and hands, and the bouquet that softened the otherwise menacing concept of the god of nightmares — those were all his. I also let him pick the location for our shoot as I didn’t have a “strong” location in mind. Needless to say, this project wouldn’t have turned out the way it did if we didn’t collaborate this way.
Thank you for reading my story! I hope you enjoyed reading about Phobetor as much as I did shooting it!
~ Joy Celine Asto
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