Prisoner of sleep


When we finally succumbed to our desire for rest.

Words by & photos by Sam Sutton


Ever since I was a young child I struggled with sleep. My parents regularly describe my inability to rest as a baby, a habit which I have inadvertently held on to. Several hours spent eyes wide in the early morning is painfully familiar.


In September 2016 I began a new stage of my life as I entered university. During the first few months, I became increasingly aware of how my peers and I struggle with time. Whilst negotiating the balance between our newly found responsibilities and our unrestricted freedom, it was often sleeping that was ignored. Initially, I revelled in this opportunity to fill the hours that I usually spend staring at the ceiling. I ignored my body’s need for rest and refocused on the new city and people around me. Slowly, the caffeine-filled days and alcohol-filled nights began to break me.


The onset of university brought not only new responsibilities but also new friendships. These friends were at the same stage in life as me, struggling as much as I was, but enjoying themselves just as much. We were operating on the same twenty four hour cycle. Restlessness spent together. I connected with these people, and gradually they became the subjects of my first documentary-style body of work – ‘Prisoner Of Sleep’.


The project began with a late night session of scrolling through sleep deprivation forums. I found myself becoming fascinated by people’s descriptions of their thoughts and experiences. I couldn’t help but draw similarities between these descriptions and the words of my friends. Hallucinations were rife, alongside a feeling of monotony, despite seemingly fulfilling lives. We were stuck in a self-deprecating circle, constantly depriving ourselves of the thing we needed the most, in favour of instant gratification.


I started to collect these statements – a selection of blurred screenshots that would later form half of the final body of work. The other half of the project is made up of imagery taken at the points where we did finally succumb to our desire for rest.


I photographed my friends as they drifted off. Sometimes my presence hindered this, sometimes sleep overtook them nonetheless.


The images themselves feature close-ups of bodily parts at rest. As the series progresses the bodies become increasingly at ease. Each of these images is interspersed with the screenshots from my original research.


Sam Sutton is a freelance photographer based in London. Her work is mainly documentary in practice, whilst also featuring portraiture and reportage imagery. As well as being a skilled digital photographer, Sam also has experience with film photography. From an early age Sam has shot on a 35mm camera. This allowed her to gain a full understanding of the mechanics of photography, and how to effectively 'read' light. Much of Sam's personal work is shot on a medium format Mamiya RB67.