For years Tony Fouhse (whose surname rhymes with goose) was, broadly speaking, a documentary photographer: his projects were about specific locations and demographics. Around 8 years ago, however, he began to lose interest in the photograph as a document. He explains, “I still wanted to photograph ‘real’ stuff, but didn’t want the resulting photographs to be about any specific place or group of people.” He began to see and use his photographs “not as facts but as slices of time and space to be recontextualized in order to point to possibilities.” Or, to put it in a different way, the resulting projects would be more accurately defined as works of fiction.
While I Was Sleeping is the third part of a trilogy of projects that came out of that shift (the other two being After the Fact and Endless Plain). These projects, by and large, use documentary techniques and the resulting images look like documentary photographs, but they are not intended to document an event. Strictly speaking, can they be classified as a documentary?
Take While I Was Sleeping as a case in point. It has all the features of a documentary project. The photographer set up a motion-activated camera near his house before he went to bed and retrieved the results the morning after. By doing so he had eliminated the possibility of his own intervention, thus allowing the camera to simply record the scene. The only man-made decisions were where to put the cameras and which photographs to select. The project is similar to Stephen Gill’s Night Procession for which Gill set up infrared cameras in the forest near his house in rural Sweden to record animal life at night. Fouhse’s photographs are grainy and black and white, giving the impression of dodgy CCTV used by the police to identify a criminal. The scenes are distinctly urban - there are cars, buildings, people. Some are walking around nonchalantly, while others appear to be running frantically — are they hiding something? One shot, in particular, stands out; it is of a man who appears to have noticed the camera and is walking towards it, but his head is cut off. It exudes the feeling of impending danger and, if it were a film, the scene would cut off 2 seconds later with a blank screen.
The pictures we see here look like both a surrealist dream and a typical film noir. The concept is on the same level of importance here as the images — the camera has enabled Fouhse to record what happens in the outside world while he’s fast asleep and would never be able to observe himself. In a way, the camera is a portal to another world which would otherwise be hidden to the photographer. Perhaps we see voyeurism at play here, or scopophilia, which is the aesthetic pleasure drawn from looking at an object or a person - looking for looking’s sake, without any specific purpose or motivation. While I Was Sleeping presents the camera as an impartial recording device, one that is capable of creating profoundly psychological and uncanny images; images loaded with symbolism whose meaning is elusive.
— foreword by Zak R. Dimitrov
I wanted to make photographs that were completely unmediated. That, of course, is impossible . . . there’s no way to unlearn, to create photos that are not informed by what has come before.
So what I did was I bought the cheapest trail camera I could find. The camera is triggered by motion and sometimes it takes a picture for no apparent reason at all. I’d put the camera somewhere near my house just before I went to bed and retrieved it the next morning. The camera took these photos by itself. While I was sleeping
— Tony Fouhse