Everything is going to be okay
Liz Potter’s series of self-portraits shot with her Noblex 150 should be viewed while listening to an Aaron Copland playlist. Like the great American composer, Potter captures the expansiveness of the American frontier, or what’s left of it. She pits her everyman heroine against its searing heat, its beautiful skies and its unforgiving majesty. Small and alone, she confronts it with courage and humility, and does not fear failure or setbacks. If you stand back for a moment you realize that she has created a perfect analogy of our personal responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.
These black and white photos are shot in a 6×12 format, which is akin to watching Lawrence of Arabia for the first time, specifically the scene where Omar Sharif rides in from the desert. There is a lot of image to take in, much of it empty. That scene is a milepost in cinematic history, and Potter’s photos are just as arresting.
“I live in a region that is meant to be seen in panorama. But that also means it’s been shot to death- why would I want to take yet another landscape photo when it would just settle into the white noise of all the others?”, muses Potter.
“Using myself to show scale is part of my intention, but the greater goal is to give a visual voice to the awakening of understanding the pandemic brought on in my personal life; that ultimately I can only rely on myself to find contentment. I live and work alone and my only solace during a year of total solitude was to seek out beauty and connection with the vast landscapes around me in far West Texas. During the pandemic, I made a series of ghost images of myself using a pinhole camera, faded visions of myself looking for grounding. As the pandemic took a turn for the better, and the country started to loosen up, I began the current self-portrait project- a solid form of myself as I started to feel a more comfortable joy, not just one hard-won by sheer force of will. In these images, I want to convey the feeling of freedom, adventure, fun, and an “everything is going to be okay” attitude I sought and found in being alone under the huge sky during 2020.”
“Huge sky” is an understatement. The German-made Noblex 150 shoots panoramic images; that is to say, it captures a very wide field of view – in this case 146°. Human vision is typically limited to 120°. This is what creates the impression that the environment is the main subject of Potter’s work, with herself as an interloper, but one who becomes comfortable with her place in the visual storytelling that is taking place.
“I’ve always considered myself more of a documentary-style photographer- recording moments or scenes. The pinhole and Noblex work is more illustrative – which is new to me. I’m not sure I would have thought of this idea with the Noblex if I hadn’t worked on a pinhole series for so many months- placing myself in them, but only in a vague, semi-transparent way. It gave me the practice of seeing a scene and imagining where I should be in it, and also just the logistics of setting up a tripod and hustling into the frame while the camera does its thing.”
Although not shot sequentially, you can pick out the story of the pandemic and how we have had to face a new reality of fear, solitude and acceptance in her images. Potter lives in one of the least densely populated regions of Texas (less than 1 person per square mile) and so the photos do indeed reflect her reality during the crisis… one where social interaction is almost non-existent. At the same time she is able to capture the “misadventures” suffered by some regions in their responses to it.
I’ve struggled to find artists who have worked in a similar vein. The clarity of the work is very Ansel Adams; she latched on to the panoramic format after reading an article on Jeff Bridges; and the humility and humour seem to derive from Vivian Maier. Liz Potter seems to stand alone in contemporary photography, combining the themes of large-scale natural wonderment and one’s inner solitude.
You can purchase Liz’s work on her site.
~ Mark Walton
Liz Potter is a film photographer based in the far western region of Texas. Having earned a degree in photojournalism in 1990 from the University of Texas, Austin, she lived in the city for 30 more years before creating a new chapter in her life by moving to a town with a population of 6,000 and a couple of blinking stop lights.
The expanse of land and sky prompted an expanse in creativity. Working within the landscapes and small towns of Texas, a sense of adventure she had always had developed into an almost insatiable hunger to deeply experience this new region; connecting to it through recording it on film. With a home darkroom she’s able to develop and print her work – crafting further the interpretation of her images.
Her cameras of choice rotate and are often chosen to fit the inspiration: the Noblex 150 is the current darling, but the 6×6 formats, and others, are on call for when the time is right. The end goal, whether conscious or not, is to bring the viewer along on her personal adventures.
~ Posted by Mark Walton