40 Surreal Photos That Will Make You Feel Uneasy For Unknown Reasons
There’s something very off about these empty places. We can feel it in our bones. The hairs on the back of our necks are standing on end and our guts are telling us someone’s watching us, lurking in the shadows, just out of sight. Can you feel it too, Pandas? The eeriness? The tension? The low-key anxiety? We hope it’s not just us.
Liminal spaces exist as thresholds between one place and the next. They are the ‘in-between’ spaces like empty streets, waiting rooms, hallways, stairwells, parking lots, and airports that mark a transition between your starting point and your destination. Often, they make us feel uneasy. Unsettled. Even fearful. Especially when captured through the lens of a savvy photographer. Bored Panda has curated this list of exquisite, dreamlike, liminal weirdness to share with you how bizarre some parts of our world, near and far, really are when there’s nobody but us around.
Photographer Dominic Sberna, from the United States, was kind enough to answer Bored Panda's questions about the role that lighting plays in setting the mood and tone of photos. Scroll down for the interview.
Are you ready to step across the threshold into the land where nightmares and reality mix like waves in a storm? Stay close, don’t wander off, don’t get lost, and let’s go explore. Oh, but if you do find your way back safe and sound, you might want to take a dive into our previous article about liminality right here.
First Post Here, Does This Count? Clouds Over St Petersburg
According to professional photographer Dominic, lighting lies at the core of photography and plays a huge role in how the image looks and feels to us, the viewers. "Lighting can make or break a mood," he told Bored Panda.
"The tones of the image really factor in when trying to portray a specific feeling," he explained, adding that the color palettes that photographers use can wildly change how we interpret a photograph. "Cool colors typically fall unto the bleak side, whereas warm colors are more comforting," he said.
I was curious if the in-built flashes on cameras are any good. "I'll always recommend to never use an on-camera flash on a DSLR camera. The flash is powerful, but that's about it. The direction and brightness of it are extremely harsh and you should either bump up your ISO setting or use an external flash," the photography expert suggested.
Bored Panda asked Dominic why certain photos can make us feel uneasy or even scared. In his opinion, how we feel about an image depends a lot on who we are as individuals and how we view the world.
"Anything visual is going to evoke a feeling. What that feeling is, depends on the viewer. They could remind us of something from our past or inspire us to something we have yet to achieve. I think it all connects back to our subconscious thoughts and experiences we've had as individuals," he said.
Photographer Dominic pointed out that there isn't a single, clear-cut way to use lighting and other photography techniques to create the feeling of uneasiness in a scene. You have to take each case and evaluate it individually. In other words, experimentation and adaptability are key.
"It would really come down to the specific scene and photo," he told Bored Panda. "I don't think there is a one size fits all answer for that."
Ethereal Playground. I Saw A Bunch Of Kids Playing In The Slides And They Were Barely Visible Through The Thick Fog, You Could Only Hear Their Laughter And Scurrying Footsteps
The essence of liminal spaces is the inherent sense of transition and strangeness. These spaces are, by their design, meant for us to transition through. And it’s at the threshold, the in-between, the area where two spaces end, that bizarreness seeps through into our world from the Beyond.
According to the Aesthetics Wiki, liminal spaces combine feelings of “eeriness, nostalgia, and apprehension.” These spaces, which we pass countless times every day, can seem “sinister or uncanny” when they’re devoid of movement. When we’re alone, we can truly see how peculiar these places are… and how we’re far too small and timid to fill them up.
As the definition of liminal spaces has become broader (or, well, watered down depending on your point of view) as the idea has gained more and more traction online. As liminal spaces gain even greater meme status (i.e. popularity), they start taking on an odd nostalgic feel because they’re viewed by more and more people who find that they can relate to the aesthetic and the content of the photos.
The Pool I Work At Kind Of Creeps Me Out When We Turn Off The Lights At Close
The Aesthetics Wiki notes that liminal spaces and their “mysterious allure” become linked to “the childhood memories and aesthetics of its fans, usually by invoking the cultural memory of the Millenial/Z generations.” There’s also an overlap between liminal spaces and the aesthetics of Hauntology, Traumacore, and the ‘After Hours’ movement. Though, to be fair, the latter emphasizes peace and tranquility. Quite the opposite of the uncanny low-key anxiety induced by liminal spaces.
Photos of transitionary places can look eerie by accident or by design. Depending on the time of the day when you take the photo, the same space can look lively and upbeat or dark, dreary, and remind you that the abyss stares back at you if you look at it for long enough.
Lightning, therefore, is a vital aspect of the liminal spaces aesthetic. Something else to keep in mind is that the presence of people radically changes how we feel about a certain area. We feel safer when there are other human beings around, going about their day. But take the same hallway or street when it’s abandoned and everything feels far more surreal. We start analyzing our individual relationship to the location, thinking about our surroundings far more than usual.
The Fog Makes The Funfair On The Meadows Seem A Little Creepy
Though not present in the photos in this list, photo-editing and post-processing can also help create an atmosphere of unease. Playing around with the lightning, the shadows, the hues, can alter how we feel about the same space. Playful and cheery and quickly become dreamlike or even subtly dangerous with the flick of a few computer buttons, a handful of mouse clicks.
Kolmanskop Ghost Town In Namibia
Some time ago, my colleague, Liucija, spoke to a couple of fans of the liminal space aesthetics about the phenomenon. According to teacher and blogger Lillie Marshall, she’s been fascinated by the idea of liminal spaces ever since she was a little kid.
“I loved thinking and writing about them. So much of our lives are spent in these in-between spaces, and yet we so often ignore them. Once you can see the importance and beauty of liminal spaces, it makes it much easier to be in the moment and enjoy the journey as much as the destination,” she told Bored Panda.
“Liminality can exist in physical space, time, and states of being, and refers to that in-between moment where you're between two things,” Lillie shared what the term means to her. “It is a sometimes uncomfortable—but extremely important—era of transformation and shifting. Often we get impatient with these transitional spaces, but they are KEY, and are beautiful and profound if you allow yourself to truly be in them and understand their magical gifts.”
Very Liminal-Looking Indoor Pool Area At The Place I'm Staying For A Vacation
Meanwhile, tabletop RPG designer and software engineer Rob Justice opened up to Bored Panda that he’s been a fan of liminal spaces, or “the space between spaces” as he calls them, even before he’d heard of the term.
“I was looking through old pictures on my phone and realized I'd taken a few liminal space pictures myself over the years. Just places that felt unique or odd to me. It's always weird to realize you're a fan of something before you know what it is,” he said.
Beach Walk To Nowhere
In Rob’s opinion, transitionary places have a “strangely powerful” effect on the human psyche. “The feeling of being between two places is an uncanny feeling, whether it's literal or psychological,” he said.
“It's stressful but there is something comforting knowing that it's temporary,” he said about transitions from two points. “I think that's where people find themselves drawn to liminal pictures. It's temporary places made permanent."