This art is what insomnia looks like


Sleep, or the lack thereof, is one of the great mysteries and frustrations of life. A lack or inconsistency of it can drive one crazy — or, as is the case of local photographer Christopher Atkins, it can make one more creative.

Primarily self-taught, with a few continuing education classes in photography, Atkins recently turned his lens toward insomnia, an endeavor that resulted in “Wired,” his second solo show, coming to the Kolman & Pryor Gallery this week.

“I wanted this exhibition to be reflective of things that I’ve been thinking about but also things that other people are probably also experiencing at the same time,” he says. “I find myself having a hard time getting to sleep and staying asleep. I took that as a chance to focus on it; to think about it in a way that was creative, sometimes photographing while I was in those moments of anxiousness or restlessness.”

Atkins kept his camera close by. When he found himself wide awake in the middle of the night, he began taking photographs. He wasn’t trying to fix the problem so much as observe it while it was happening.

The photographs collected for the show sample a wide range of work: with both black-and-white and color prints, a variety of scale, a mix of indiscernible and clear subjects, literal and evocative tones. Some of the photographs were taken inside his apartment, others outside. At times, Atkins used a tripod and left the aperture wide open to let the light in. Other times, he relied on long exposures to replicate the feeling of being awake for hours on end.

With an educational background in art history and contemporary art, and a day job as a curator for the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul, it’s no surprise that Atkins would want to show his own work.


“The more I worked with photographers on their exhibitions, the more I became interested in it as a practice: how artists put together an exhibition, capturing images, printing, thinking about how a show comes together,” he says. “There’s something very technical about photography that I like.”

Influenced by the likes of Lee Friedlander, Chris Verene, Jeff Wall, and Nancy Rexroth, it was important to Atkins to capture his immediate surroundings. “You look at a lot of photographers, and they go quite far to get the shot,” he says. “For me, I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s closest by, what are the things right around me that are of interest?”

While he wasn’t attempting to create a narrative with the selections for the show, some of the photographs are in a series, and he believes viewers will see consistencies between the images.

“I tried to not have it be too straightforward and too didactic,” he says of the exhibition, which runs through February 20. “Even though this is coming from a very personal spot of something that I’m experiencing, it’s hopefully going to have some resonance with other people who have similar relationships with sleeping and being awake and technology. It’s meant to be more widely resonant than, ‘Woe is me.’”


"Wired: Photographs by Christopher Atkins"

January 7 through February 20

Kolman & Pryor Gallery

Studio 395, Northrup King Building

1500 Jackson St. NE, Minneapolis

There will be an opening reception Saturday, January 9 from 7 to 10 p.m.