By Camila De La Cruz
You know that strange feeling when you stay behind at school at night or another busy area? When a place often filled with people and noise is suddenly covered in silence and calm. You may get a strange feeling that something is not right.
Welcome to Liminal Photography, a genre, or even online aesthetic, that has been taking the internet by storm.
Liminal photography – Fear to nostalgia
Liminal spaces by definition capture the transition space from one place to another. It could also be the state of transition or change and it isn’t restricted to physical places.
But you may be asking, what kinds of transitions can be captured in a photograph? Well, that is a good question, especially if the liminal photos you see look like they lead to nowhere.
Is this the highway to hell?
Not all photos are meant to capture the gateway to nowhere. Many photos may provoke a sense of nostalgia for places you have never been, and they will definitely provoke an eerie, uneasy feeling.
But don’t fear, liminal photos don’t have to scare you. In fact, many would argue that’s not the main point of it. A common drawing factor of liminal spaces is the nostalgia it brings. The unnatural lighting, the excessive amount of negative space and the occasional strange angle famous in liminal spaces photography has the power to send you spiraling in a time machine sending you back to kindergarten. Some photos even have the power to provoke nostalgia for places or experiences you have never experienced.
A common genre within liminal spaces are empty kid’s play areas. Similar to that uneasy feeling you may get from a deserted school, these places seem lonely without any children in them. However, with the lack of small children running and screaming, you can’t help it to go back to your childhood and wander inside these play areas. Although it may seem weird at first, liminal spaces like the photo below is inviting as it begs you to explore it and inject some life in a dead playground.
With the fall of malls, many liminal spaces are based off old dead malls that seem to be stuck in the past. Like this mall, the White Flint Mall in Maryland, USA which looks like it was taken straight from the 80s. Even though this mall is far away and beyond our time, it can still produce that sense of nostalgia for many people today.
The same mall is now closed permanently in 2015 due to ownership disputes. The image of the mall is above.
It appears that large commercial areas like malls, movie theatres, petrol stations and airports, just to name a few, are common victims to the liminal space’s genre. This is because, for many people, each movie theatre or petrol station is so similar that they start to blend into one image. And thus, any photo of these places can trigger so many memories.
AMC theatre in Ridgefield New Jersey, USA. The tall ceiling creates an excessive amount of negative space which, combined with the old carpets triggering nostalgia and vast emptiness create the perfect recipe for liminal photography.
But what started as simple photographs with clever tactics to bring you in boomed in popularity online, and eventually sparked the creation of internet horror stories found in stories about the ‘backrooms’.
It all starts with this one picture. Level 0.
The rise of the backrooms were partly inspired by liminal spaces. It takes the uneasiness of luminal spaces and turns it up to one hundred by removing any sense of security and adds monsters (or “entities” as they are known in the backrooms) that can kill you easily. Here, nostalgic elements that once ruled liminal photography have been stripped and eaten away. Instead, you are all alone, waiting around bored out of your mind until an entity decides you’re next.
That sounds like a cool horror game or movie, right?
It seems that the rest of the internet agrees. A reddit subpage was made dedicated to liminal spaces and the backrooms ‘r/liminal’ spaces has over 526000 members, and the #liminalspaces hashtag on TikTok has over 2 billion videos. Online communities have started creating a story together, outlining every detail about the backrooms from the appearance, to the number of entities, to sometimes a backstory documenting the previous society that used to occupy the level before mysteriously disappearing.
Here are a few of the most infamous levels in the backrooms.
Level Fun – It’s designed to look like a children’s birthday party, except the entities may kill you and turn you into a cake.
Level Run For Your Life – It’s exactly what it sounds like. If you somehow end up in this level, you will need to run for 10km with entities chasing you to escape this level. Or else.
Level Heaven – It is perhaps the only safe level, where no entities roam and you’re free to wander to your heart's content.
Pool rooms – although it may look relaxing from first glance, do not be fooled. The water will rise indefinitely until it reaches the roof, and you’ll find no way to escape.
Level “you cheated” – if you escape any of the other rooms, it would be considered cheating the backrooms and you will be sent to this level which will light on fire sooner or later.
Image: Lost Wanderer on Youtube
The things that separate the story of the backrooms and other horror stories is the author. While many horror stories will have one or two authors creating the universe before sharing it with the world, the backrooms were created by multiple creators on the internet, each one contributing a little idea building a little seed to the backrooms. Backroom fans not only consume media about the backrooms, but they also create it in the first place. They will create fan-made trailers and videos without any pay.
This does mean that not each recount of the backrooms will vary depending on who you ask. But almost everyone can agree that the liminal spaces or backrooms would be a terrifying place to explore.