That was photographer Arthur Tress’ goal for his “Daymares” series, a collection of his stagings of children’s creepy dreams from the late ’60s and early ’70s. Jen Carlson recently talked to Tress about the project, which grew out of another series that focused on waterfront parks around New York City:
So as I was doing that series, I photographed a lot of children, because that’s where kids played, along the waterfront. And then I got asked to do a workshop with a childhood educator named Richard Lewis, who still has something called the Touchstone Center in Manhattan, and he does workshops on creativity and children. Every year he has a different theme, and one year he did children’s dreams, to get kids to write poems and paintings from their dreams. So he called me in to photograph his class. So I said, you know, that’s a terrific idea, and I’m going to pursue that by asking children and my friends what dreams they remembered from childhood.
You wouldn’t really just find those things by walking around, so they had to be staged and directed, and so I began doing what’s called staged photography—this is around 1970—and that was kind of unusual for the time, people were doing street photography. I was looking for mythological, archetypical, kind of nightmarish images. That kind of became my trademark for the next 20 years, that kind of surreal disturbing photography.