In a project which the photographer began in 2015, his home becomes the stage upon which to explore the possibilities of photography
Upon first encountering Yurian Quintanas Nobel’s photobook Dream Moons, the reader doesn’t see a photograph, but an illustration of a mind-as-house. Placed in the centre of a vibrant red background, its intricacies and geometry are skeletal and mysterious. The side profile of the head is ominous, but strangely relatable, foreshadowing the photographic narrative sequenced within. Inside the book, published by Void, Quintanas Nobel’s images relay the story of a bizarre dream, starring a protagonist trapped within the surrealist sentience of his home, unable to escape.
“I feel comfortable working alone, with my music and without external distractions. The sentiment ‘When you close a door, an entire universe opens’ encapsulates this feeling – that’s what happens to me when I’m at home.”
Strangely, Quintanas Nobel started making these claustrophobic photos in 2015, before the experience of being trapped inside our homes in lockdown became a collective reality. After spending years making projects about people and communities, in places like the desert of Southern California and the island of Sri Lanka, the photographer decided to challenge himself by making work within the walls of his own house. “Up until that moment, I was going outside, seeing what the world could offer me, but then I started creating my own world without extraneous movement,” he says. “I feel comfortable working alone, with my music and without external distractions. The sentiment ‘When you close a door, an entire universe opens’ encapsulates this feeling – that’s what happens to me when I’m at home.”
His images are a combination of trippy phenomena and hallucinogenic still lifes. Books are stacked on gravitationally impossible angles, objects distorted and floating without explanation, and flashes of light and debris interlaced with close-up shots of limbs and bodies. “Technically, I wanted to use the camera as a tool for transforming reality,” Quintanas Nobel says. “And psychologically, I wanted to show something that humans aren’t able to capture with a camera, like images in a dream.”
This mind-bending reframing is an unplanned commentary on our current events, and like the imagery of lunar phases laced throughout the design and title, Quintanas Nobel demonstrates that our universe is dependent on cycles, even in the midst of the chaotic and unplanned. For the photographer, the potent symbolism of the moon was channelled through writing, which prompted him to incorporate its glowing, mythological visuals into his internal imagination. “One night, I wrote a text on a dream about a moon,” he explains. “It entered my house and started transforming everything, until she finally took me with her to another world.”
Through Quintanas Nobel’s photographs, the shimmering border between our reality and alternate dimensions dissolves. It is an apt metaphor for the past year, when many of us have been forced to turn inward, both emotionally and physically, blurring the distinction between the rational and incomprehensible. By reimagining our domestic settings as fantastical funhouses, the photographer demonstrates that magic exists around every corner. When he stops to think about how the relevance of his work has rapidly transformed, Quintanas Nobel is humble and gentle in his interpretation of communal isolation. “I think this book is a demonstration that it’s possible to do something other than mindless distraction while stuck inside,” he reflects. “For me, at this point it’s hard to imagine myself going crazy in my house, because since starting this project, it’s the place I feel most comfortable. I prefer it to a crowded pub.”
Cat Lachowskyj is a freelance writer, editor and researcher based in London. Prior to pursuing a career in writing, she trained as an archivist in Toronto, developing research on colonial photography albums at the Archive of Modern Conflict. She has completed residencies and fellowships at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Ryerson Image Centre and the Rijksmuseum, and her current research interests involve psychoanalytical approaches to photography and archives. Cat’s writing has appeared in many publications including Unseen Magazine, The British Journal of Photography, Foam Magazine and American Suburb X, and she has held editing roles at both Unseen Magazine and LensCulture.