Against the Sky

Black and white architectural abstract photograph by Paul Politis
Untitled (black and white photograph) by Paul Politis (2020)

Black and white architectural abstract photograph by Paul Politis

I made a bunch of photos last year that I grouped together and called Skyward which was me having fun with playing around with the geometry of some buildings here in my city. I struggled a bit with that work even as I was making it, feeling that I wanted to be making work a bit more meaningful to me, work that is deeper than simply formal shenanigans. Still, I found myself drawn to pursuing it and, feeling otherwise uninspired, tried to ignore the inner critic and pursue it for a while. I spent a few months, off and on, doing this work and then eventually put what I thought was the best of it together into a collection, and mostly lost interest and moved on to other work.

Since that time, I began to get some clarity into the deeper motivations behind the work and its meaning to me. I understood that it’s about the man-made world in conflict with the natural world, about my struggle with an increasingly alienating and soulless technological and virtual society (whose values I’ve never fully embraced, which has degraded over my lifetime, and which is now in such a state of flux and uncertainty that I cannot know if it will end up in a place that is better or far, far worse, though I have strong suspicions), and at the deepest of levels the work represents the conflict within me between a rational worldview and a spiritual one.

What’s real and meaningful and what are simply distractions from those things? The buildings and their geometry that I was so focused on are not the protagonists of the photos, they are the antagonists, conspiring to block out the sky — a symbol for transcendence — and doing so in ways that I find beautiful in spite of that. The most insidious distractions come in the most beguiling of forms.

Untitled (black and white photograph)

Anyhow, I’ve renamed the series Against the Sky as this title, when understood superficially, accurately describes what’s visually depicted in the photos — buildings photographed against the backdrop of the sky. But it’s the more adversarial meaning of “against” that hints at what the series is ultimately about.

The photo at the top of this post is visually representative of the entire theme of the series. The little fern at the bottom left reaching upward longingly toward the light, dwarfed and dominated by the structures that allow only a hint of light and sky.

The series as it stands now can be seen here, though I still find myself tinkering with the photos to include or exclude and the sequencing, and I’m uncertain about the opening quote. It captures a bit of that feeling of longing, I think, but I need to live with it all for a while and see.

Black and white architectural abstract photograph by Paul Politis

9 Comments

  1. I like your re-imagining of it… I like how you make the buildings into characters, the antagonists… That is pretty much how I view them too, sometimes. When I am photographing the natural world, always make a conscious effort to remove any and all human, man made elements from it, which in my mind, ruins it all…

    and I, like you have done now with this series above, had thought about creating a series where the focus is the beauty of nature, but then intentionally leaving in all the man made shit that is blocking, detracting from it… but, then thought, why do that? We are witness to that practically everywhere we look and turn, why capture it too, to endure it in an image also? Art is beauty, wanting to capture the beauty (okay, not all the time), so why do the antithesis of that? Aside from the photographic chronicling, documenting, of the life/world around us, for prosperity…

    [reluctantly sighing] Okay, and to use to help us see… the first step in solving any problem, is recognizing the problem in the first place, seeing it, and then doing something about it to eradicate it. That’s why. It’s how we learn, how we grow. Can’t do that if we don’t recognize and see the world for all it is… the beauty and the ugly… in order to remove the ugly, and work to make all and only beautiful. Guess that can tie in to what we were speaking of in your previous post… countering our, or maybe just my, disassociating, removing myself from others… which too, in a way, would be doing what everybody else seems to be doing, and just digging in our heels in their own little corners, against everybody else.

    Oh, Paul, you got my mind blabberin’

    • Yeah, beauty is a word that exists on a lot of levels and in lots of guises, and once you start saying what it is you start thinking of the forms of beauty you’ve left out and then you have to broaden your definition of beauty, and then you try again. I’ll try this: beauty is anything we find meaningful — and clearly lots of things we find meaningful have a lot of “ugliness” to them too, but things can be apprehended on many different levels and what’s ugly on one level can be beautiful on other levels. Art that really affects us always works on multiple levels at the same time, creating an additional layer of beauty just in our appreciation of their grace and depth. Art that appeals to us on only one level we tend to forget quickly, and rightfully so. It’s a shame because with our shortening attention spans thanks to technology, it’s exactly that type of depth that we are losing the ability to appreciate.

      Anyway, personally, I really do subscribe to the famous quip of Garry Winogrand to a great extent: I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed. Now I’m blabbering …

  2. I have lost the ability to create anything interesting, beautiful. I am still triggered when I see or hear something interesting/beautiful, but there is no energy in me to produce myself anything, if I ever… Great you can, enjoy!

  3. Talking about a beauty. Paul, I am just looking at this whole series of images. Started by reading quote from Haruki Murakami. Excellent, that is something!
    And then those images! It feels like one (a person) is missing something, but realized it, holding his head upwards searching for it.

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