All stripped down (black and white photo)

Nude (black and white photograph)
Nude (black and white photograph) by Paul Politis
Nude (black and white photograph)
Nude (black and white photograph) by Paul Politis

Well, you know in your heart what you gotta bring
No big mink coat, no diamond ring
Well, take off your paint and take off your rouge
Let your backbone flip and let your spirit shine through
— Tom Waits, All Stripped Down

Well, this was a bit of a quick grab shot and the focus is off — I got too close for the capability of my lens to focus — not that this is terribly obvious when viewing online. I stuck around and played with this idea a bit more but as is often the case I liked the initial photo — the one taken quickly and with little conscious thought — the best. I’m no stickler for technical stuff like that anyway, at least not for work that retains a feeling of spontaneity and authenticity, which is something I want to try to achieve more in certain areas of my work.

Over the past few years I’ve noticed this strong undercurrent inside me toward a less obviously composed way of photographing, something that feels and looks more spontaneous though still carefully structured (I’m an incorrigible formalist at heart, it seems). This impulse toward spontaneity is usually met by resistance from another dominant part of me that wants my photos to have straight horizontals and verticals and everything to be distortion-free and perfect. That war rages inside me when I’m out taking photos, I recognize the tension of it in my chest and gut as I’m photographing. I guess I’m questioning that sacrifice of tension for balance, uncertainty for certainty, that I so often feel I make in my in-the-moment aesthetic decisions. There is some union of the two that I’m seeking.

Particularly in some work that I’ve been doing on and off over the past 6 months and that I intend to be working on for the next couple of years if my interest doesn’t abandon me (which is something that seems to happen to me a lot and far too quickly, a subject worthy of investigation in another post maybe). I’ve found in this long-term project a subject matter that is giving me opportunity to wrestle with these opposing desires to try to find some synthesis that works for me. I can’t say I’ve reached any synthesis yet though I’ve surprised myself by realizing that I have faith that I’m slowly, unconsciously, progressing. Keats’ “negative capability” pops into my mind as I write this, an idea that has stuck in my head since I first encountered it not long ago. From Wikipedia:

… at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason—Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.

I think that’s what I’m after, and not just in my photos but everywhere, in all aspects of my life. ‘The sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration … without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.’ I think that’s one reason why Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I mentioned in my last post, has caught my interest.


  1. I like that photo, Paul, good eye.

    I wonder if I would have had the patience to make that shot… probably for like a minute, two absolute tops, but then would have been on my way.

    Like we’ve talked about recently, I am more of dealing with the circumstances present at the time I notice them, and capturing them and there, then moving on… maybe sticking around a moment or two if I do see something better or more that can be attained… but, then it would again fall back on my patience, and yeah, if whatever that may be doesn’t present itself, I am off after a minute or so.

    I guess you describe it as spontaneous… I wouldn’t use that word to describe it with me, though it may just be semantics… but, with me… you know, I think it is all deeper really with me, in that it mirrors me, who I am, and my life long existence of, I guess, maybe being poorer most of my life, and you take what you got, and make the best of it… maybe that carries over subconsciously into my shooting, and I make the most of what is present at the moment, and that’s simply really it, nothing more, nothing less.

    I am waaay more anal or OCD about vertical/horizontal lines though! Just that symmetry thing with me, and liking things all lined up nicely… though I am not an absolute stickler with it, as can be noted in my last week’s Fifty-Two In Fifty-Two shot, the horizon line is just a little askew, and it does bug me, and did try to correct, and did like better… but, then it triggered another anal/OCD part of me in that it cut off just a hair too much in the image rotation, that it ruined the symmetry that way… so, just relented and left it as is.

    Okay, sorry, I’ll shut up here and leave my babbling rambling for our emails and not your comments section! 😁

    • I don’t mind your babbling comments at all, I’m interested in your perspectives.

      I see what you mean about making do and connecting it to having grown up poorer than most, that’s an interesting connection. I’ve written in the past about how I am (still) forcing myself to make photos on the same handful of streets and it has gotten a lot harder as the years go by but on some level I’m determined to “make do”, as you say. I think there might be a similar impetus behind it: to increase what’s inside myself (my creativity, my playfulness) rather than increase the external stimuli. It’s harder but when I do get a reward it’s a revelation for me and so far has kept me going. When I hear about photographers travelling all over the place I get why but I think they deprive themselves of a lot by not forcing themselves to make do with what is in their own backyard, so to speak. It forces you to look deeper and be more creative and often more subtle.

      When I say ‘spontaneous’ I mean it’s such a quick reaction to a situation that I am taking the photo even before I’ve really intellectually understood what I’m doing, what attracted me/what idea I had. In this case I spotted this sticker and took the shot above immediately because the lady happened to walk by, all in a matter of seconds. So I think it’s not the sticker alone that attracted me so much as the fact that the lady was approaching as well and I put together that it might be fun to combine the two, but there wasn’t time to form the conscious thought before I had already raised the camera. In cases where I recognize the conscious thoughts I often have to then contend with the ‘that’s stupid’ voice in my head, I’m sure you have your own version of that guy.

      I think my natural inclination is the same as you: I will generally take my shot(s) within 10 to 15 seconds and walk on. But, that said, a while ago it occurred to me that maybe I should at least try being more disciplined and stick around a bit longer in situations where I’ve stumbled upon something that interests me. I consciously try to remember to force myself to stay longer now, but not only to simply beat to death the idea I initially had but also to challenge myself to be creative and see if I can explore and come up with fresh ideas. In the case with this shot, I remember I took this shot and then walked a few blocks and then returned for this reason. In this case, nothing more came of it.

      • Oh, and about the parallel lines stuff… I’m still struggling with all of it. I’ll often take a photo deliberately skewed because my intuition wanted it that way and then try to straighten in post and wonder what the hell I was thinking. And, then, like you, crucial elements that contribute to the balance of the whole thing get cropped out and it’s just a frustrating mess for something that had potential and I just didn’t rise to the occasion. I’m still trying to figure it all out. I guess I suspect that my intuition is on to something, I’ve learned to respect it, but … well it’s just not coming together reliably yet. This is not something that I will work out intellectually but intuitively, I think.

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