My father checked into a California hospital for elective back surgery in September of 2017. He never left the hospital, as everything that could go wrong did and he ultimately passed away in April of 2018. I live with my family in Washington state, almost a thousand miles away. It might as well have been a million. I saw him when I could, but it wasn’t nearly enough and I spent the nights of those long months wide awake, consumed by that which I couldn’t control or even much influence. As Kathy Hepinstall writes in her novel Blue Asylum, “Those who wake at this hour feel a lonely separation from everyone but night birds and ghost crabs, never imagining the legion of kindred souls scattered in the darkness, who stare at ceilings and pace floors and look out windows and covet and worry and mourn.” This perfectly describes my nights during that time. But not long before the end, something happened: while I was experiencing the loneliness that comes with being the only one in my house awake in the dead of night, it occurred to me that in fact I was not alone. I am a long-standing member of the world’s least exclusive club as at any given time millions of people are simultaneously experiencing the same recurring restlessness. And this got me thinking: what keeps so many of us up at night? What is it we can’t stop thinking about? Night Birds & Ghost Crabs was born out of these nocturnal questions and it panoramically reveals the kinds of things that keep so many of us awake late night, from seemingly innocuous thoughts to more profound musings on our pasts and futures, our lives and their meaning, and our inescapable mortality. And in the end, it doesn’t matter if what you’re mentally looping on seems inconsequential or meaningful; either way, the end result is the same as try as you might you just can’t shake it and sleep won’t come.
The images that accompany the interviews featured in Night Birds & Ghost Crabs were filmed over an eight-month period during which I filmed at least one shot a day. With the exception of a few GoPro shots, all of the footage was taken on an iPhone. No shot was staged. The idea was to capture what were often fleeting visual moments I came across in real time, which means the shots aren’t technically perfect, in that they shake or the focus varies or the framing isn’t what it would be were they traditionally orchestrated takes. But what they invariably all are is real. And they replicate that feeling you have when you’re in the grips of a bout of sleeplessness; you’re most certainly not asleep, but you’re not always 100% attuned either. There’s an almost hallucinatory quality to the experience, where your mental pictures don’t exactly line up with your thoughts, but are nevertheless impressionistically representative of what you’re thinking.
In pairing this experimental imagery with interviews in which people from all walks of life discuss the gamut of that which keeps them up at night, Night Birds & Ghost Crabs documents those lonely late night moments we share with so many others the world over. As it turns out, though we are physically alone during the wee dark hours, we are united in sleeplessness with untold millions, and there’s a kind of reassuring comfort in that realization.