One Model’s Intimate Exploration of Sleep and Dream States

Pin It
Zenobia’s Dreams by Laura Marie Cieplik
Photography by Laura Marie Cieplik

Featuring model Zenobia Voegele-Downing, Laura Marie Cieplik’s new photo series is a soft, haunting exploration of the potency of dreams

There are few states we’re more vulnerable in than the state of sleep – except perhaps sharing a personal creative project with the world. For model Zenobia Voegele-Downing, the intimacy she saw in Laura Marie Cieplik’s work inspired her to invite the Paris-based photographer to collaborate on a series of images that explore the vulnerability of her dream state.

“I had this idea in mind for a while,” Voegele-Downing explains, “and I’d been doing a bunch of research and image sourcing – really trying to be precise with what I wanted. I was being really picky with the photographer I wanted to ask to work on it. And then I found Laura’s work. She was my ideal person to shoot this. Laura captures intimacy in a really beautiful way,” she continues. “[It] makes you feel like you’re seeing a private moment – but not like you shouldn’t be seeing it, you just feel close to whoever she’s photographing.”

Having reached out to Cieplik via Instagram, Voegele-Downing invited her into her space to shoot the images they’ve simply named Zenobia’s Dreams. The pair shot scenes at the model’s flat in London, as well as in the landscapes she grew up within, in Dorset. They braved fierce winds on rainy beaches to catch scenes Voegele-Downing dreamt up. “She was brave and strong,” Cieplik says. “We shot in very, very bad weather conditions and [Zenobia] was jumping in the sea just naked – nothing was stopping her. For me, it was a big help because sometimes you struggle to get the image you need or want, and she just gave everything for that.”

“I think that’s why in only two days – and without knowing each other before – we could make images so personal,” considers Cieplik. “It was touching that she gave everything, so I also put all of myself in, to be involved with that.” The resulting images possess a soft, eerie quality, haunting in the way a potent dream will linger into the day that follows it, with remembered fragments you’re not totally sure are real. “I have very strong, vivid dreams either to do with my life or they’re crazy, out of touch with reality,” says Voegele-Downing. “I like to lean into them, even if sometimes they’re unhappy or nightmarish, just because I think they make me feel … I don’t know, they can be inspiring to me.”

As a model, Voegele-Downing explains, she’s not always in charge of her own representation, and she felt that stepping into a creative director role gave her a sense of agency, which came as a relief. “Sometimes I can be quite a self-conscious person,” she says. “I thought, ‘I’d really like the chance to portray myself in a way that I’d like to show the world rather than someone else’s interpretation of me.’”

Working just as a pair felt right to both. Voegele-Downing styled herself and did her own make-up (“it was the bare minimum,” she laughs), while Cieplik shot alone, on black and white film as well as some colour. “In some shots, the colour was just right,” Cieplik says. “For example, in the frame where she cries, she has just a bit of a pinky cheek in the tone of it, you could feel her, sad and sweating a bit – you could feel the emotion.”