Sleep Creek by Paul Guilmoth and Dylan Hausthor, reviewed by Holly Houlton

Sleep Creek


Paul Guilmoth and Dylan Hausthor are a collaborative pair of artists, largely exploring their subjects of place, myth and narrative through photography and bookmaking. They reside in the Northeast of America, located in a wooded area which is especially reflected in their recently published book Sleep Creek.    

The photobook depicts a body of work Paul and Dylan began making back in 2016, during which time they lived together on Peaks Island, a small mass of land off the coast of Maine, reachable only by boat. The duo limited their photographing process to be restricted to the boundaries of the island itself.

Starting out as a documentary and fictional project of the land and the inhabitants within it, soon grew to expand outwardly taking influence from their own personal lives – the people and lands they knew. Although they claim the images are somewhat personal, they hope there are universality within them, using the place almost as a template to represent ideas of storytelling, myth and character; not representative of a singular region. This is also perhaps inferred by the chosen title of the work, Sleep Creek, referencing a sheltered natural habitat so not specific to one certain place; yet personified with a human action, perhaps referencing the human or living inhabitants within it. Moreover, the made-up title aligns with the made-up place the artistic pair have created within the work.

Paul and Dylan’s aim with Sleep Creek was to manipulate the landscape, drawing out the variety of ways outside objects and dwellers of the world inevitably alter place and our experiences of it, forming a landscape which represents both trauma and beauty. Although the work dances between document and fiction, for example, the inclusion of a natural-looking photograph of a deer partially hidden by shadows of trees and what appears to be a carefully composed image of a topless woman with different hands placed upon her. Themes of myth, nature and existence depict an autobiographical account of experience of this place. The duo listened to the stories of the residents living in the creek, spent time with them and the surrounding water. The photographs made there, arguably act as physical mementos of the inhabitants and the myths linked to them.

The content of the images is quite stunning; the composition, lighting and choice of moments astounds me – each image raises questions that somehow resonate, leaving me wanting answers.

Several reoccurring themes seem to appear including death and harm; there are a variety of images depicting this, for example, dead animals or a man with a plaster on his arm stumbling over the ground. Fire is also a repeated visual throughout, such as a portrait showing the back of a girl’s head with her hair caught fire. Although some of these photographs may seem unsettling at first glance, they all have a certain original beauty about them, light has been captured in such a way that the subjects at hand seem to glow. Moreover, there is representation of animals being free. Flying bats and birds, appears to symbolise the freedom the inhabitants feel in such a rural and peaceful land.

The photographs have all been taken in black and white, but the density, contrast and amount of blacks or whites is incredibly varied image to image. Some evoke a spooky atmosphere, leaving much to the reader’s imagination – such as a full-bleed image across two pages of a naked woman floating in water, surrounded in darkness; nothing is shown to the reader but the body and the water’s reflection upon it. Whereas others show in-depth detail of an entire scene, such as a misty wood - birds flying high above the trees and you can see every detail of plant in the foreground of the shot, including the sheep in the grass. This appears to be a common approach to the duo’s photographing, favouring darkness or detail.

Some of the images seem to appear almost like negatives, perhaps to infer this idea of distorting reality through experience in such a place. Objects appear almost back-to-front – darkness starts in the middle of a gathering of plants and fades out gradually, getting lighter and bats appear white, almost fluorescent against an absorbent night sky. 

The admirable sequencing must also be acknowledged. Starting with the cover, a beautiful moss green coloured card encases the book, inferring its link to nature alongside a carefully drawn golden illustration of a goat. Above the animal are flecks of ink, perhaps meaning to appear as embers from a fire or fireflies, referencing the visuals of fire inside the book. Turn the book over and you see what can only be described as a mythological or historical looking scene of naked men and women drowning helplessly in water; but it is hard to determine if this depicts fact or fiction. The choice of having not just these illustrations printed onto the cover, but in what appears to be gold ink of some kind, was perhaps a deliberate choice to evoke a sense of history or myth before one even begins to read the book.

Upon opening, the reader is immediately presented with the image of a wooded creek, printed on the other side of the cover – appropriately bringing you inside the Sleep Creek world Paul and Dylan have created for us. I very much appreciate the ellipsis in brackets, hand-written on the initial page; nudgingly inviting readers to perhaps pause before reading on or suggesting a slow and considered read throughout.

The book flicks between portraits and landscapes. These vary between photographs showing an entire body or scene and close-up shots of a hand or plant. Each image is given its own space to breathe and be viewed, almost as though each is representing its own small window into the vast and intricate world of the sleeping creek. This is established by giving each image a significant white border, or paired with a blank white page, or allowing it to sit full-bleed across two pages with no interruptions.

Some thought-provoking pairings have been made, one that I particularly admire is what seems to be a winter scene of the creek; ice on the water and mist in the air, next to the shadow of an arm extending out toward a crack in a tree stump. This curated choice feels to me as though it represents how close we as humans can be to breaking, we can be both fragile and sturdy just like the aged tree and iced lake, but we can also affect one another perhaps in stronger ways than we yet know.

I would not say this photo book has a linear narrative, but perhaps more of a continuous one, much reflecting how we experience place and inhabitants of it. Additionally, such is life, operating in a continuous and ongoing cycle. This seems to be inferred at the end of the photobook with a photograph of a baby goat being born, followed by a short flick-book style illustration of a baby goat frolicking before being lastly presented with an image of a dark circular hole in the middle of a field of flowers – demonstrating this sense of ongoing life and its circular narrative - birth, life and death. 

As a professional photographer myself and one who has made photobooks in the past, Sleep Creek has definitely enlightened my consideration of the importance of reoccurring themes throughout a project presented in book form and using not just one either. I feel that in this instance particularly, it helps draw the imagery together in a holistic manner.   

To any creative interested in the natural world, experience, mythology or human nature – I strongly recommend delving into this alien yet very recognisable world.

Sleep Creek by Paul Guilmoth and Dylan Hausthor can be purchased here.

Holly Houlton is a first class graduate from Coventry University; she is a photographer and writer based in the UK. Houlton’s work mainly explores people and place with a particular interest in the effects they have on one another in relation to experience and time. Using a personal approach, themes of intimacy, relationship and self-reflection are applied to interpret surrounding environments. Specific attention to detail and light attempts to draw out the perhaps otherwise unseen; stimulating emotive contemplation. Alongside her visual practice, she writes passionately about photography in journalistic and academic form - regularly contributing to and published by numerous established platforms. During 2020, Houlton founded and launched a writing platform called Now Tell Me, dedicated to giving freelance and emerging writers on photography the freedom to write self-directed content.


Now Tell Me Instagram:

Sleep Creek


Sleep Creek