I was first introduced to Kristine Potter’s work when Humble included an image from her series The Gray Line in our 2010 exhibition “31 Women in Art Photography,” I co-curated with Charlotte Cotton. The image, which showed two men from West Point Military Academy dressed in camouflage and backlit by a piercing sun, intrigued me because of its complex gesture that fell somewhere between fight and embrace. The work was inspired by Potter’s relationship to the multiple generations of men in her family who served in the military.
While Potter's earlier work addressed notions of American maleness through portraits of soldiers training at West Point, her latest series, Manifest, now on view at Daniel Cooney Fine Art, evolves into softer, more ambiguous territory. Potter takes the viewer on a quietly paced journey through masculinity in the American West, inspired by her great, great grandparents who were sharpshooters and started their own variation of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
”Years ago I was helping archive some of the newspaper clippings and photographs we've inherited from them and was struck by the language used to sell tickets to the traveling shows. This was before televisions and movies, of course. So the idea of 'The West' and its wildness was just being cultivated.”
While much of The Gray Line was confined to West Point and Potter’s studio, Manifest was shot almost entirely on Western slope of Colorado, which Potter felt was home to a different physical and cultural tone of masculinity. “The men are more wild, and so is the landscape. I am completely taken by landscape and how it can mirror my own experience of being out there. You can look at a distance and see the 'calendar picture' of the mountain range, but once you step inside the thickets, it's incredibly disorienting."
The resulting pictures combine majestic landscapes and straightforward portraits with distant images of men interacting with the land, that fall somewhere between documentary and cinematic tableau. Like her earlier portraits at West Point, Potter’s photographs expose her subjects as vulnerable and nuanced. Their gaze, whether it’s directly into the camera or into the open territory around them, replaces bullish confidence with a sense of unease about themselves and their surrounding world. Potter describes this as being in sharp contrast to many of the commonly held myths about male archetypes.
“The Cowboy or Mountain Man seemed as good a place to go after the confines of West Point as any. They are such polar opposites and yet, the American soldier and the American cowboy hold similar weight symbolically. I'm always interested in complicating the myth we've sold ourselves. My soldiers and cowboys don't look like the ones you expect.”
The men Potter photographed for Manifest are not limited to typologies or tools for exploring gendered identity, but are additionally a vehicle for developing longstanding relationships.
“It’s not just to look at them, but to spend time with them and become friends with them. I guess I’ve always thought the camera was a good key to get into the places you can’t just go alone… Sometimes they become friends and I revisit and photograph them again and again. I like them, generally, and I like learning about their lives.”
Bio: Born in 1977, Kristine Potter lives and works in New York City. She holds an MFA from Yale University and a BFA from the University of Georgia. She has exhibited both nationally and internationally -- most notably in Paris, New York City, Miami and Atlanta. Her work is in numerous private and public collections, including at Light Work where she was recently the recipient of their renowned Artist-In-Residence grant. Her solo exhibition "Manifest" is up until November 1st, 2014 at Daniel Cooney Fine Art.