Jennifer Liston Potter

Jennifer Liston Potter
Tennessee, USA

Pictures From Home
We often think of photography as a medium that mines the external world for images of the foreign and exotic. Think about it, have you ever been to Antartica or met Pope Francis? Yet, because of photography, faraway geographies and newsmaking celebrities feel oddly known and familiar to us. Many photographers travel outward to engage their subjects. But its important to remember that some of the most important photographic work, both historical and contemporary, has been accomplished by artists who have chosen to travel inward or, in some literal or metaphorical sense, stay close to home.

I was going round the world searching for an interesting place, when I realized that the place that I was in was already interesting. – Emmet Gowin

Jennifer Liston Potter lives in a small town in northern Tennessee with a population that is just shy of 2,000 people and, according to her Facebook profile, graduated high school about 25 miles away in a town less than half that size. Last month, in one of her posts, she gleefully announced that, at age 34, she’d just had her first plane ride – with a local private pilot in a small single-engine 4-seater.

Potter hasn’t traveled the globe. She doesn’t split her time – as we so often read in those bios on book cover jackets – between an apartment in the city and her gentile country retreat. Potter’s subject is her working class family, doing what families do in small rural communities – playing in the creek, walking in the woods, hanging out in the yard with neighbors and relatives. Her territory is encompassed by a few square miles, most often even a few square blocks – many of her pictures are made within sight of her home.

There are things in your life that only you will see, stories that only you will hear. If you don’t tell them or write them down, if you don’t make the picture, these things will not be seen, these things will not be heard. –  Emmet Gowin



These images gain their strength and their integrity from Potter’s deep understanding and identification with her subjects. These are her people, this is her tribe. Her images document lives that are common and humble, yet also subtly heroic in their constant rhythm of hard work and caring for one another.

Of course, Potter isn’t the first photographer to identify her family as subject. Sally Mann’s images of her children have achieved cult status, and Nicholas Nixon’s four decades of portraits of his wife and her sisters are widely admired. But its really Emmet Gowin’s photographs from the 1960’s and ’70’s, of his wife Edith and her southern Virginia extended family, that have the most intense resonance with Potter’s work – particularly Gowin’s deep respect and affection for his subjects, and his reverential descriptions of image making as almost a form of spiritual practice.

The bulk of Potter’s portfolio centers on her life as a mother and a member of an extended family. But there is also another body of work that weaves itself around and throughout this central theme – a large number of self-portraits where she is clearly sorting through, not her social and familial relationships and responsibilities, but who she is as an individual person, and as a woman.

There is an interesting tension between these two bodies of work; two personas that appear for the most part harmoniously entwined but also in some essential respects clearly separate – in conversation with one another. While Potter obviously revels in her role as nurturing mother and loving family member, she is also a woman who is exploring the question of what it means to be independent, female, feminine, strong, powerful. The self-portraits, which are honest and intimate, vulnerable and courageous, reveal a person rehearsing all these personas – and their various combinations, nuances, and inflections – in front of the camera; looking at and observing herself, but also allowing us to witness this process of personal probing and self-exploration.


Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside awakens. – Carl Jung


In the hands of another artist, these images might come off as clichéd or self-indulgent, but Potter’s direct and uncosmetic vision avoids these traps. This is not a woman who buys into the prevailing cultural gender norms, and she is definitely not interested in transforming herself according to idealized fictions of beauty.

Instead, Potter’s self images feel raw and un-retouched. She doesn’t appear to be posing as much as simply putting herself in front of the camera to see what she really looks like, and celebrating the beauty in that.



images: © copyright 2016 Jennifer Liston Potter. No use without permission.

words: © copyright 2016 Joseph Squier. No use without permission.