Spaces of Love: Photographing Liminality
The ‘Spaces in Love’ project aims to explore and participate in the passers-by experience of in-betweenness of love and space. It captures couples' and families’ togetherness and separateness within the seascapes and anything unfolding in between that is yet to be lived through, yet not always understood.
The first phase of the project started in December 2015, with me using my own perspective as a photographer/geographer and with no direct interaction with the individuals being photographed. The photographs do not reveal participants’ identities, but focus on their anonymity and interactions with one another and with the space. Those passers-by can be seen as human forms that entered the scene of the sea and shore. Within that space I could witness and immerse myself in the hollow sounds of ambiguity, ‘betwixt the sand and the foam’ of different emotional forms emerging and dissolving. These also had an effect on my very own perception of what love, solitude, closeness and separateness are.
The second phase of the project will interact directly with passers-by and, with their agreement, I will aim to capture their synergies with the space. Such photographs will reveal identities and look more closely into the thresholds of lives through experiences and emotions.
The photographs presented here are from various coastal sites across the UK and Spain, including: The Isle of Portland, Weston-Super-Mare, Clevedon, Portishead, Exmouth, West Pentire and Fuerteventura. The project was presented at the Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California in March 2016.
WHAT IS SPACES IN LOVE ABOUT?
It is the ‘space’ that fascinates me, along with the dynamics of changes occurring within it through individuals' interactions that are associated with togetherness and separateness, closeness and solitude.
As the tide goes away it leaves stones on the sand that make temporary imprints, until another tide comes in and allocates them to a different place. These are the micro changes that we barely notice and that occur in a liminal space.
The word ‘liminal’ derives from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold," that is, the bottom part of a doorway that must be crossed when entering a building. It is used today to describe any experiential threshold, the midpoint of transition in a status-sequence between two positions, which is barely perceptible, yet which often is quite uncomfortable, and which we often would not choose to be in. In anthropology, for example, one way liminality is conceptualized is as the quality of ambiguity that occurs in the middle stage of a transition when participants no longer hold pre-ritual status, but have not yet begun gaining a new understanding of the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. In both cases, this is a place where we long for something to be resolved.
Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan expands these understandings by recognizing liminality in human interactions with space, and where human-made spaces meet the natural world; which cannot be clearly and explicitly known. He comments that the natural world "can be known only as resistances to each human space."
This is what happens when a couple in-love enters a beach, leave their footprints on the sand, or walk on the pier, showing one another affection. Their gentle space and time imprints last until the next tide of people and the sea washes away the loving soft embraces, the security of hands holding, and the gentle hair stroke. These loving gestures of togetherness are often paused by separateness and lone gazing into nothingness.
Then, these gestures re-emerge into yet other forms.
Such thresholds experienced and felt within human space, i.e., from closeness to solitude, are unveiled within the greater natural world. As Tuan proposes, the "original space is a contact with the world that precedes thinking," and in its act, the human body "implicates space; space coexists with the sentient body."
For Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual leader, space in itself “has no existence, yet it enables everything else to exist.” He further writes, that "since space is 'nothing' we can say that what is NOT there is more important than what is there." The nothingness that is space mesmerizes, terrifies, soothes, propels freedom and delivers relief. As it allows for all the forms to be, it also becomes a playground for liminal transformations to occur; including those of and within human spaces.
As Tolle writes, “All you can do is create a space for transformation to happen, for grace and love to enter.” The couples and families enter that space together, which then becomes a backdrop for closeness and separation to unfold and interplay.
As the artist and writer Kahlil Gibran writes on space and love:
“Let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls […]
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow”.
Similarly, Tolle teaches us to be present and to give space to one's partner for expressing himself or herself. He further clarifies, that “giving space to others and yourself - is vital. Love cannot flourish without it."
Moreover, an Irish proverb says: "Reality is that place between the sea and the foam." That space where the stones and sand, where the love, the memories, and the feelings are carried to a new destination, and any imprints erased. Reality becomes that very moment of turbulent movement and immersion, but also a stillness of an underwater odyssey encapsulated by the beneath the surface hollow sound, again and again randomly expelling its material and emotional belongings at the new shores.
For Tuan, "personal and cultural spaces are distortions" of an objective space and such illusions are bound to undergo some form of transformations. Correspondingly, Tolle writes that “every form is destined to dissolve again and that ultimately nothing out here matters all that much."
THIS RAISES A QUESTION: WHAT REMAINS?
In one of his famous aphorisms from Sand and Foam, Kahlil Gibran signposts that it is the sea and the shore that will remain forever, which are the boundaries of space:
“I am forever walking upon these shores, Betwixt the sand and the foam, The high tide will erase my foot-prints, And the wind will blow away the foam. But the sea and the shore will remain
In the ancient Persian tales of One Thousand and One Nights, the character Princess Scheherazade refers to space as nothingness and says:
"When nothing existed,
Love existed, and
When nothing shall remain,
Love shall remain: it is
The first and the last."
Furthermore, this brings up the significance of the moments that frustrate our will and arbitrariness, in other words, the very liminality of thresholds. Such moments allow us to experience the non-human world, what Tuan would call the "original space," or the "nothingness." Most importantly, as Tuan reminds us, such moments “cause us to pause and pose the question of an objective reality distinct from the one that our needs and imagination call into being.”
Ultimately, what remains could be the capacity for, and the very substance of, liminality.
On one of the days when I was collecting the visual data at the UK coasts, I came across a family throwing flowers into the sea. The flowers were from the coffin of their grandmother who was buried a day before. Their grandfather also happened to pass away on the same date, but a year earlier. The family chose this coast because they knew this was their grandparents’ favorite space - one they used to visit every day.
The family kept throwing the flowers into the crashing waves of the sea, then collecting them when the waves brought the flowers back to the shore, repeating the process.
All the multi-colored roses, marigolds, daisies, and carnations soaked in water were carried by the vicious foam along the shoreline, sunk into the cold sea waves, and then returned for a moment of pause on the shore only to be taken back and relocated again.
"We keep throwing them into the sea, but they keep coming back, as if they didn’t want to go away just yet." – I heard.
Aga Szewczyk is a social documentary photographer and visual researcher with many years of experience gained through UWE Bristol BA Photography Professional Practice where she focused on photographing aspects of mobilities, identities and migration, having previously obtained a Doctorate in Human Geography and Migration at Loughborough University. Aga is also a freelance wedding and family photographer: www.agasstudio.com.
Gibran, G. 1926. Sand and Foam. Knopf, New York, NY.
Harvey, W. 1973. Tales from A Thousand and One Nights. Penguin, New York, NY.
Tolle, E. 1997. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Namaste Publishing, Vancouver, Canada.
Tuan, Yi-Fu. 1979. Landscapes of Fear. Pantheon Books, New York, NY.