The Real World
1: a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep
2: an experience of waking life having the characteristics of a dream (vision, daydream, reverie)
3: something notable for its beauty, excellence, or enjoyable quality
4: a strongly desired goal or purpose; something that fully satisfies a wish.
I found the book first – about five years ago at a flea market. A beautifully bound, slim volume of quality paper and end pages with the look of good marbling. Of the twenty-two pages, sixteen were blank. I bought it thinking that a bound book with that many blank pages would be useful for something, someday. I put it on a shelf and forgot about it.
The glass plate negatives came next. A major find at the Brimfield Antique Flea. Two photos of the same three people – older woman, younger woman, older boy – sitting by a camp fire in the early 1900s. They intrigued me. Why were they camping? They didn’t look that happy – did they wish they were elsewhere? I scanned them, stored them and periodically looked at the scans. But I had no idea what I wanted to do with them.
And then came the “great re-arrangement” as I organized new studio space. The book and the slides ended up on my desk together. I took a closer look at the book. It seemed to have been an agenda for an upscale planning meeting (a “summit dinner” to quote the title page) and invited participants to help the hosts imagine the future of the agency. The first printed page had a stanza from Wislawa Szymborska’s poem The Real World:
Without us dreams couldn’t exist.
The one on whom the real world depends
is still unknown,
and the products of his insomnia
are available to anyone
who wakes up.
The complete poem describes differences between dreams and reality. (Read it here.) As I studied the poem, a story – subsequently titled Dreamers – began to take shape.
It is not so hard to imagine life changing suddenly, though most of the time we prefer to believe that reality, as we’ve defined it, is permanent. The characters in Dreamers experience the loss of a loved one, a home, a way of life and their expectations for the future. Lines from Szymborska’s poem are used to define their new world as it overpowers their dream world.
Are there other perspectives? Taoist Master Chuang Chou also wrote of the puzzle of dream world and real world.
“Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awakened, and there I was, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.” (See Tao Living: The Dream of the Butterfly by Derek Lin)
Dreamers explores the defining of reality through a series of photo composites. Double page spreads in color illustrate the dreams of each character, while underneath each dream is a second layer with a monochromatic view of the “real world.” Szymborska’s words and Chuang Chou’s dream combine to create alternate routes.
Which is the real world?
See more photos from Dreamers in the Gallery.