Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Liminal Spaces

Bridges in the forest at Frank Ryan Park
I recently learned a word that describes one of my continuing artistic obsessions: liminal.
liminal (adjective)
1. of or relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.
My art teacher in high school once gave us this assignment: draw something that includes a window, mirror, or door. It was one of my favourite assignments.

A window frames the subject.
The subject becomes more significant because of the frame.
I've seen similar writing assignments: write from the perspective of someone looking through a window.

Where will this road take you?
In both cases, I was entranced by the idea of a visual metaphor for something transitional. Something that beckons. Over the past few years, I've consciously looked for perspectives like that, though I haven't had a name for them.

Where does it lead?
The liminal is as much about unknown as known. It is, in may ways, about letting go of what is here -- what is safe -- and reaching toward potential.

They create a tension, I think, in the viewer, a sense of being excluded or being drawn forward.

Open the doors.
Often, there is a change of lighting between one side of the liminal space and the other, which further deepens the sense of contrast and "otherness."

Doors at St. James Anglican Church, Kingston, Ontario
Doors are a unique kind of liminal space because, if they are closed, they block movement, closing off access to the space beyond. But they still captivate us. (I've seen many posters showing the doors of older cities.)

Even a portrait gains power if it is given a liminal context.

It's a theme I will keep investigating.


  1. I really love this post, Wynn. I never heard that word before, but now that I do, I can put a name to it now when I take photos such as these. I often find myself drawn to long-perspective shots, like staircases up, or long pathways laced with repetitive objects, like planters, gates/fences or repeated elements of a building. I'm also a huge fan of doors! My favorite photo in your gallery is the one captioned "Where does it lead?" because you can imagine those first stones on the ground as footsteps leading you through. Love the texture and the lighting as well.

    And only looking again today did I notice the palm print in the airport photo. So cool!

    1. Thanks, Kathy. I wasn't sure if my readers and friends would "get it" about this concept, but it was powerful for me to find a word that expressed this feeling.

      BTW, the last picture, with the palm print, was taken at the airport on the way home from the funeral for my friend. I didn't see it when I snapped the pic, but once I looked at it again, I did. The hand print will always feel like K.B. saying goodbye.

  2. Liminal, I've never heard that word until now. Something that beckons, a visual metaphor for something transitional, I get exactly what you mean, very powerful. What a moving photo, your friend saying goodbye, or, I'll see you again, this too is transitional and the most powerful message IMO.

    1. Exactly! Ever since I found the word for what I was feeling, I've been conscious of it everywhere.

  3. What an interesting post - I did not know the word 'liminal' or what it meant! I have learned something very unique and I love that... I also love images of doors! Great post!!

    1. Thank you, Sheila. You'll be looking for "liminal" images everywhere now!

  4. So fascinating! love this. my favourite is the path where you ask "where does it lead?" This is something I will think about next time I am out with my camera.

    1. The covered bridge on your last post is *very* liminal!

  5. Hello Wynn Anne! I haven't heard of liminal space before either, it's quite interesting though! It's like a mystery, isn't it? Where does the (or my) path go? It's about trusting and instincts. Lovely images too, thank you!!

    1. It is like a mystery! And I think that's why it's both unsettling and intriguing, as an observer.


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