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Northport photographer creates tarot card imagery inspired by his sleep paralysis

People by: Joanne Kountourakis, October 4, 2022

Northport photographer Nicolas Bruno. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society.

At just seven years old, Nicolas Bruno began to suffer from sleep paralysis, a disorder that renders a person’s body immobile while the mind is awake and, at times, acutely aware. Sleep paralysis episodes are often accompanied by terrifying hallucinations, a sensation of suffocation, and intense pressure on the chest; it’s as if the person wakes up during a nightmare but their body remains paralyzed in bed, stuck somewhere between sleep and consciousness.

Nicolas couldn’t have predicted then that his experiences with sleep paralysis would become the foundation of a body of work so hauntingly powerful that it’s garnered acclaim from local followers to the BBC, CNN, Huffington Post, Vice, Mashable and Nikon – to name a few.

Nicolas began to truly process and understand his dreams while a student at Northport High School, where his AP art teacher helped him conceptualize a method of transforming his dream journal into photographic self portraits. Reenacting scenes from his hallucinations allowed him to gain control over the fear and danger he felt, and confront the nightmares that plagued him.

“This process would later become my therapy for understanding my sleep disorder, as well as the basis for my body of artwork,” Nicolas shared with the Journal. This month, Nicolas’ “Somnia Tarot,” a 78-image art series which uses photography, sculpture, costume design, and dream journal recordings to reinterpret the Rider-Waite tarot deck, will be on display at a pop-up exhibit in the Northport Historical Society. Various characters and symbolism from Nicolas’ experience with sleep paralysis are woven together to express the diverse themes that appear within the classic tarot.

A 2011 graduate of Northport High School, Nicolas credits much of his trajectory as an artist to his early education. “The unbelievable quality of art education at Northport High School gave me the foundation to pursue a career as an independent artist,” he said. And that AP art teacher, Craig Mateyunas, he “went the extra mile for all students in our class, and ensured we all found a way to express ourselves to the fullest,” said Nicolas. “I am so thankful for his influence and inspiration to explore the world of art.”

In 2015, Nicolas received his BFA in photography with a minor in art history from SUNY Purchase College. His studio is currently based in Northport, where he photographs and fabricates props for his compositions. Some of his favorite areas to create artwork are Crab Meadow, Fuch’s Pond, Twin Ponds, Makamah Beach, and Eatons Neck. “I love exploring our local marshlands, coastlines, and woods to set the scene for my photographs,” he said. “In my travels, I still have yet to find a place that matches the beauty of Northport's surrounding environment.”

In early December, Nicolas and his fiancée will be moving into their first home together in Northport. The two met in their freshman year English class. Fourteen years later, they got engaged. “I am looking forward to continuing my life and career in my hometown,” he said.

“Somnia Tarot” runs through October 31 at the Northport Historical Society in Northport Village. On Thursday, October 13, Nicolas will speak about the Somnia Tarot project during the society’s Night at the Museum party, an evening of tarot card readings, Halloween trivia, raffles and more. DJ Stephen Lombardo will perform live. Costumes are encouraged. Guests 21 years or older should register for the 7-10pm event here. Tickets are $13 per person.

Learn more about Nicolas and his work on his website, and check out this BBC reel for a deeper understanding of how photography has helped Nicolas process and understand his dreams. Nicolas’ work has been exhibited multiple times at Haven Gallery in Northport Village, and his Somnia Tarot 78-card tarot deck is available for purchase (for a limited time) at Nest on Main.

The “Somnia Tarot” deck includes 78 images by Nicolas Bruno. “Two of Swords” image via Instagram.

The “Somnia Tarot” deck includes 78 images by Nicolas Bruno. “The Star” image via Instagram.

The “Somnia Tarot” deck includes 78 images by Nicolas Bruno. “The High Priestess” image via Instagram.