In Conversation with Kristine Potter

By May 21, 2024
Kristine Potter, Bloody Fork, 2017, from Kristine Potter: Dark Waters, (Aperture, 2023). © 2023 Kristine Potter

Georgia-raised, Nashville-based photographer Kristine Potter’s project Dark Waters has borne large scale photographic prints, a video piece, and a book by the same name published by Aperture in 2023. Over eight years in the making, the project re-animates the murdered women from historic murder ballads vis-a-vis studio portraits. These figures are presented alongside images taken in and around the Southern locations named for these violent acts: Bloody Fork, Troublesome Creek, Blackwater Swamp. Potter’s work is currently on view in Atlanta at High Museum of Art’s exhibition Truth Told Slant and in Bentonville, AR, in a solo exhibition at the Momentary, Kristine Potter: Dark Waters

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Kristine Potter, Balladeer 2, 2022, from Kristine Potter: Dark Waters (Aperture, 2023). © 2023 Kristine Potter

JENNIFER DUDLEY:  I had been lucky enough to see your show at The Institute of Contemporary Art in Chattanooga back in—


JD: Exactly! And the exhibition was black and white, no color. But as soon as I see your new book, Dark Waters, there is this shock of a green cover. And it’s amazing. Since then, I’ve heard you talk about the color of the cover in terms of the forest canopy, that green curtain that happens in the landscape. I love that connection. But my initial connection to this gorgeous green curtain was to this Bronzino painting that hangs in the Frick, the portrait of Lodovico Capponi. And to Holbein’s Ambassadors. There’s something very painterly about that cover, but then you open the book and the images are speaking a different language, a photographic language. You have a background in art history—you got a BA in art history at the University of Georgia along with your BFA in photography. What is your relationship to that painterly language?

JD: Oh, I had no idea!

Kristine Potter, Two Fisherman, 2015, from Kristine Potter: Dark Waters (Aperture, 2023). © 2023 Kristine Potter

JD: The book has three different kinds of photographs. I found landscape, documentary photography, and the studio portraits. I was especially interested in, well, I don’t want to say pulling back the curtain but—

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JD: Ha! But I was curious about that process, curious about your distance from the South and leaving Brooklyn, where you had been for ten years at that point.

JD: You were living in Brooklyn for thirteen years, but leaving to photograph the Southern landscape, then coming back and doing the studio portraits in Brooklyn. How did that distance from the South affect the way that you then kind of crafted the earliest versions of the studio portraits?

JD: And what is “that kind” of photographer?

Kristine Potter, The Medium, 2017, from Kristine Potter: Dark Waters (Aperture, 2023). © 2023 Kristine Potter

JD: When you open the Dark Waters book, the first image is The Medium (2017). It hints that it’s through her that we see the images, we enter the book through the medium. What is your interest in the medium as it relates to the oracle of Greek mythology?

JD: I was thinking about representations of women who’ve held power, like the medium. I am reminded of how women who’ve held power or owned property would be accused of witchcraft. I am wondering about the medium’s relationship to the witch as having some extra, intuitive powers.

JD: Yeah, that could be perceived as cynical. But when I hear this, I just feel that you’re speaking the truth. Thinking about women artists, the success of women artists and how that can be played as troublesome to the patriarchy. There is a connection between the troublesome women in the murder ballads referenced in this body of work and you as an artist. You are generative, creating voice. You’re getting ready for a large exhibition at The Momentary at Crystal Bridges and you’re collaborating with musicians. How is that going?

JD: I’m thinking of other photographers from the past that have had so-called soundtracks, someone like Nan Goldin. Are there other photographers that you’re thinking about as you approach the sonic component?

Kristine Potter, Dark Water, 2019 from Kristine Potter: Dark Waters (Aperture, 2023). © 2023 Kristine Potter

JD: You spoke previously about photographing these dark, lush landscapes so that every detail is in focus and discernable. It’s not just a technical prowess, it’s from a drive to see into the distance, to know what’s behind the forest canopy, behind the curtain. To be safe. To have a map.

JD: It also makes me think again of different outcomes. The history of the South has been told so frequently that way. By obscuring…or by omission.

Cover of Kristine Potter: Dark Waters (Aperture, 2023). © 2023 Kristine Potter

Truth Told Slant is on view at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta through August 11. Kristine Potter: Dark Waters is on view at the Momentary, Bentonville, AR through October 13.

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