Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Exploring with a Camera: Thresholds

Time for another exploration! This time of a subject: Thresholds. By "threshold" I'm not referring to any technical term, but a physical place. A place where you cross over, from one locale to another, whether real or imagined. Threshold images are not merely images of doors or gates, but they are of portals that transport you to somplace different in your imagination.

The photo above is an example of the type of "threshold" I am talking about. This image is from the Roman Arena in Verona. When I look at it, I get a sense of time travel. In my imagination, if I walk through that curtain, I will be transported back to Roman times. There is a magical quality of the unknown on the other side of that curtain. It beckons me to come through.

Here is another, of a gate to Parco di Monza near my home. This image gives me the feeling of looking into another world, some sort of magical winter wonderland. The gate is merely the portal, the threshold to this place. I want to explore down that path.

And here is a threshold that I captured that has become sort of an anti-threshold to me. One that I don't plan to pass through. You see, later this year I turn 40 years old and I started looking for places with the address 40 to capture my threshold. This image is from the island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon, one of my favorite places on earth to photograph, but this is one of the most depressing images I have photographed there. After I reviewed and edited it, I realized that is not my 40 threshold at all - there is no hope, no happiness, no creativity in this threshold. It's pretty bleak and closed off. It showed me that I have no problem with turning 40, that I reject the idea that this milestone is a bleak thing. So there is power in that too - I began to imagine what my internal 40 threshold looks like and it's nothing like this.

To capture a special threshold image, here are some tips:
1. Look for doors or gates that have some contrast in what is behind versus what is part of the wall or structure the opening is in. This could be a contrast in light or in scenery. The greater the contrast, the greater the opportunity for the "threshold" feeling.
2. Try getting in close to the threshold. By cropping in close on the opening so you don't see what is surrounding it, you create more opportunity for creative story telling because there is not as much physical "place" presented to distract the imagination with reality.
3. Look for openings that are not fully open, that just give a hint of what is behind them. This will give a tantalizing, magical feeling. In this case, the imagination is not distracted by the reality of what is on the other side of the threshold, but is allowed to go wild.
4. Look for thresholds that have meaning to you, whether it's the address number or the physical place or the imagery you find there. Later, take some time to examine that image to see what meaning you find. Does the image match your imagination or feelings? Why or why not? Can this threshold be useful to you to learn something about yourself?

Photography, like any art, is symbolic. The images we capture have meaning, whether or not we know it at the time. Explore the world around you with the idea that there are magical thresholds available to you all the time, and share what you find! Post a link to your photo here in the comments or join the Flickr group set up for my Exploring with a Camera series.


  1. I really love this subject-I am very much into doors and peeking through!

  2. I just love doors - I am going to Paris next year and this will be a great project.

  3. Awesome top shot... muggles beware.

  4. Thanks for the suggestions on taking these types of photos... I think I am going to head downtown where I live and try to caputure some photos of thresholds. As always great pictures.

  5. These are fantastic! I especially love the first one with the stone steps and the red curtains--such mystery! :)


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