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“What’s more American, iconic, and masculine than a cowboy?” asks Kristine Potter. “There is so much control within the military, so I wanted to pivot to a more lawless, unpredictable form of masculinity”.

Coming from a long line of military men on both sides of her family, Potter has long been interested in broadening the spectrum of permissible masculinity. After completing The Gray Line, a project that looks at young male cadets, she started to think about forms of masculinity other than that familiar from her youth.

Potter was first introduced to photography during her undergraduate degree in Art History at the University of Georgia, where she took part in introductory classes with guest lecturer Mark Steinmetz. “That was life-altering for me,” she says, “I was exposed to this breadth of amazing photography that just wasn’t part of my life until then. It pivoted my experience of photography into a much richer vocabulary”. 

Between 2012 – 2015, Potter travelled along through Colorado, stopping to photograph nomadic men in the vast landscape that they inhabited and under the glaring light of the American West. “The light is extraordinary out there,” she says. “It’s just penetrating, you feel like you can barely even have shadows there’s so much of it.”

Kale, 2015. © Kristine Potter
Summer Landscape (Climbing Trees), 2014. © Kristine Potter
Topher by the River , 2012. © Kristine Potter

In the early stages of Manifest, Potter was only interested in taking portraits. But because the area was so remote, she would often go days without finding anyone to photograph, so she started to shoot the landscape as well. “It became a wonderful surprise and challenge in the work,” she says.

The title of her project references the “manifest destiny”, a widely-held belief in 19th century America that its settlers were destined by God to spread democracy and capitalism across the continent. “Manifest destiny speaks about the future, but I don’t think what I’m looking at holds that same meaning,” Potter explains. “I was more interested in where we are now, and the way we see things that we already have ideas about.

“There are lots of reasons why I decided to head West,” she adds, explaining how the advent of photography followed the settlement of the American West in the 17th century, and her fascination with early landscape photographs that she describes as “epic male pictures”.

She became intrigued by the gendered way in which landscapes are described, she says, as something that needs to be possessed or conquered. But in Manifest, the men are vulnerable to the landscape, and they fit within it rather than as someone who wishes to possess it. 

“I wanted to make interesting pictures that detailed this kind of disorientation and impenetrability,” she explains. “I wanted the landscape to feel more threatening and immediate.”

www.kristinepotter.com Manifest is published by TBW Books, priced $45 www.tbwbooks.com/collections/single-titles/products/manifest

SummerLandscape(Cliffs), 2014. © Kristine Potter
Dean, 2013. © Kristine Potter
Spring Landscape (Abstract Grass) , 2013. © Kristine Potter
Summer’s Sommer No.2, 2014. © Kristine Potter
Pancho Outlaw, 2014. © Kristine Potter
Spring Landscape (CrawlingPaths), 2015. © Kristine Potter
Drying Out, 2015. © Kristine Potter
Summer Landscape (The Oasis) , 2013. © Kristine Potter
Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.

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