As long as you have seen at least one horror movie or video game in your life, you can probably imagine watching the following scene play out in your brain frame-by-frame. The protagonist slowly approaches something that’s partially hidden from view. (could be a half shut door, a half-open drawer, or curtains getting blown open by the wind… You get the idea.) They hold their breath as they are about to reveal what’s lurking behind that obstructed space. The space slowly becomes unobstructed. As the camera zooms in, fear creeped up behind the protagonist’s back. Perhaps they will see something they will regret seeing. Perhaps they will see nothing. It gets closer… And closer…
Sorry for the cliffhanger, but what is horror without suspense? Is it not the unknown and our insatiable curiosity that combined to make a piece of media into horror?
This is not the first time we have talked about horror. A month ago, I wrote about Analog Horror, a genre known for its realistic scenarios that contain all sorts of spine-chilling anomalies presented in the form of analog video tapes. If you would like to start off fresh on the topic of horror elements, give it a read here: The Elements of Analog Horror.
However, something that is not uncommon to see across works of Analog Horror is liminal space photography. Even though works of Analog Horror are almost exclusively presented as videos, liminal space photography is commonly used as freeze frames to pair along with a protagonist’s story, whether told verbally or in text.
By now, you probably notice a connection between this image and what you imagined at the beginning of this article. Yes, that obstructed space was liminal space. Similarly, a forest at night with something lurking in the distance is liminal space. So, from this point of view, darkness seems to be a trend for liminal space.
But wait! That is not the only possible settings that have liminal space aesthetics. An empty mall entirely illuminated in pale-blue light is liminal space. A hallway without an end is liminal space. A stranded field with a neon coloured playground is liminal space. So… Is light needed in a liminal space?
But how could liminal space have so many variations? What are the defining characteristics of something with liminal space aesthetics?
The Basics of Liminal Space: The “In Between”
The basics of liminal space is very simple. A quick google search will yield hundreds of result that bring you to the word’s Latin root, limen, which stands for “threshold.” In this context, liminal space is the boundary between two places or situations. Without overgeneralizing (as I overgeneralize), people often feel uncomfortable about the ambiguous “in-betweens” that can’t be categorized between two states of being.
Let’s start with movements. You can be sitting, you can be standing, but if you try to squat, you will eventually transition back to either standing or sitting.
And what about unfinished works? Would it concern you more if an artist never started something, or if an artist started a piece but never finished it? (Speaking of unfinished art, the Curse of the Ninth is a superstition in the history of classical music that describes how multiple composers—with the most well-known being Beethoven, Mahler, and Schubert—died before finishing their tenth symphonies.)
And to bring the topic back to other fictional horror elements, we have even more “in betweens.” Zombies, vampires, ghosts—the ones who died but still exist in a fictional reality—are really mind boggling. Mermaids are mostly influenced by Disney and children’s storybooks to be beautiful and innocent beings. Sirens, the less well-known counterpart of mermaids that are also half fish half human (so to speak), have a much more scarier presence in mythology and are often considered evil and manipulative. And of course, location-wise, there are also the abandoned houses and carnivals that should have been demolished but are left to exist in a dysfunctional state.
A trend you see here is that it is not necessarily bothersome to see either of the two opposite states of an entity. However, a transitional state that is simultaneously both and neither gives off the discomfort or eerie feeling of a liminal space image.
Advanced Categories of Liminal Space
Now that we are on the same page about what makes a space “liminal,” it’s time to look at some examples of “in-betweens.” Copyright of all photos shown here are to their respective owners, and all of them are either posted or retweeted by @Liminal_Places on twitter.
1. Visible vs. Hidden
2. Stay vs. Away
3. Purpose vs. Futility
4. Logic vs. Absurdity
Want to view other liminal space aesthetic photos or read more about them? Check out the following links:
- Visible & Hidden
- Stay & Away
- Purpose & Futility
- Logic & Absurdity