Into the light: Kristine Potter

Potter captures flashes of clarity at eyedrum gallery

Owing a certain debt to British video artist Sam Taylor-Wood and shutterbug-to-the-surreal, Gregory Crewdson, Athens photographer Kristine Potter captures individuals hovering like tropical fish in a tank, momentarily suspended in a private reverie of indeterminate origin.
Like Crewdson's series "Hover," where vaguely sci-fi scenes unfold with isolated figures gazing intently out into the middle distance, Potter's work has a just-shy-of-surreal aura. Much of that technique is achieved by the artist's inventive use of light.
Potter has an interesting theory about the light she so vividly employs like a character in her photographic dramas: A sudden jolt of it can produce a clarity, a kind of visible epiphany in people that her photographs seek to convey. "It is my personal experience that those moments of self-realization come fleetingly amid my encounter with a certain, impressive source of light," Potter notes in her artist's statement.
Light spills into rooms from windows (an omnipresent frame-within-a-frame in Potter's photos), rains down on a dusky road from a streetlight or seeps mercilessly from racks of fluorescent lights in a French subway terminal.
Potter's light is somewhere between the light of the divine and the same incandescent narcotic that draws moths bumbling and drunk to a flame. Potter offers no further expansion of this light theory, but her savvy recognition of such a simple force's seductive properties rings not only true, it is persuasively amplified in her photos' tranquilized moments.
Potter's photographs tend to feature a largely slacker contingent: a bearded Utne Reader type gazing ceiling-ward in the center of his living room, or a pink-haired punkette smoking a cigarette and gazing out into the middle distance from her kitchen table.
Other, more compelling subjects capture less aesthetic specimens, like the elderly man frozen in a subway terminal. It's an image with a sad, lonely feeling nicely enhanced by the interplay of setting and subject. Something in the old man's neat but failed effort at dapper dress — a badly fitting navy suit and tie sadly accessorized by a cheap canvas bag and a pair of sandals — captures how small details of some anonymous person's life can seem suddenly poignant in the midst of a cold, institutional public setting. Within the out-of-date orange, yellow and red tiles that line the walls, the ugly fluorescent light freezes the man like a display in a diorama — he seems mesmerized by some unseen thing or lost in a secret contemplation that gives him an endearing, human frailty.
Another portrait, "Dave," realizes quite beautifully Potter's hypothesis about light. A frumpy, working-class man with a frayed collar and five o'clock shadow sits in a late model car, his hand frozen on the car keys in the ignition. A subtle beam of light gives the scenario a practically Vermeer-esque sense of calm. Several such photos in the show are almost inexplicably pleasing and tender.
The only real weakness in this seductive, sensitively mounted show are two prints that dangle from the gallery ceiling. Portions of the subjects' faces and bodies are printed onto segments of Plexiglas, and then layered, so that the actual subjects are only visible in toto when viewed straight on. One is of a black man, the other of a white woman. The images have a religious feel with their shroud-like appearance, their figures' eyes raised heavenward and supplicant posture of palms upturned. They add an overtly spiritual aspect to the other images that doesn't necessarily work. Rather than caught in some internal or existential reckoning, there is suddenly a religious dimension, of soul-searching or literal rapture implied in these two mixed-media works. Potter's work is best when it offers no such overt allusions to spirituality but when it instead allows its little mysteries to inexplicably hover.
Recent Works, featuring photographs by Kristine Potter and paintings by Hannah Jones, continues through Feb. 25 at Eyedrum, 253 Trinity Ave. Tues. and Thurs. 2-7 p.m., Wed. and Sat. noon- 5 p.m., Fri. 7-9 p.m. 404-522-0655.

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