Many photographers will collect photos taken along a common theme or of similar subject – a project of sorts. Such a project could take a single day, others might stretch across many months or even years. Sometimes, such projects become a scavenger hunt, a list of subjects that the photographer is always keeping an eye out for. I feel the most compelling projects – both from the observer’s and the creator’s perspective – are not the ones featuring subjects of happenstance. It would be the photographs that were created, staged and captured with a defined and practiced intent. Photographer Dennis Maitland has such a project, Life On The Edge, which documents high reaching places at the edges of buildings.
Back in April, when we featured one of his photos, I wrote that Dennis “is not afraid to push boundaries.” I was speaking, at the time, about his choice of subjects – a graffiti laden morgue locker with a friend posing as a corpse (a truly haunting but mesmerizing image). With his Life On The Edge series, Dennis continues pushing boundaries, but in a different direction. He even puts butterflies in the stomachs of those of us who would otherwise be comfortable of heights. Interestingly, Dennis started this project to train himself to become comfortable with heights. Allegedly, he’s no longer afraid.
The photos in the series are simple. Most feature Dennis’s own shoes, legs dangling over the edge of tall buildings. He chose to use a wide angle lens for each of the shots – often 18mm – so as to get his legs into the shots. In part, this anchors the photo with a vertigo inducing context. As a side effect of the wide angle, the perspective gets somewhat distorted, often pulling the ground far closer than it really is. But if you count the windows or the flights of stairs, you realize just how high Dennis sits. The feet are really important. They plunge the viewer into reality – this isn’t a trick shot, the photographer is really sitting on the edge of a tall structure. For many of us, this pulls hard at our emotions. Even those of us who aren’t afraid of heights may not be inclined to sit on the edge of a building. But there is the window into a reality that we are not commonly familiar with. And for this reason, Dennis’s project is both inspiring and fantastic.
Dennis is not without caution, of course. Many have accused him of being dumb or stupid. While its easy to point fingers at such behaviors, the truth behind such accusations is often jealousy – a desire to be able to push oneself as much as Dennis has for their own works. I’m not saying you need to push your body and your safety to the brink. But I do feel that Dennis wasn’t working without the most minimal of precautions.
Dennis Maitland is of course a contributing member of our Shutter Photo @ Flickr Group, and you can find much of his work on Flickr. If you would like to view the entire series, he has grouped them together at Flickr in a set by the same name. Finally, you can also browse his works at his personal website.
More Photos From the Series: