MTSU professor releases book about southern murder ballads

The murder ballad is a deeply southern gothic song style that depicts what men sometimes do with "problematic" women.   A new photography book by a MTSU professor explores the topic.
Images like this one from Potter’s new book evoke a time when men solved the problem of a problematic woman the old-fashioned way, according to crime writer Harold Schecter. (PHOTO CREDIT: Kristine Potter)

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Kristine Potter, a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship in Photography and an assistant professor of photography at Middle Tennessee State University, has been capturing the light from myriad angles with her lens for many years.  

Dark Waters, Potter’s second monograph, features a dark and brooding series that reflects on the Gothic landscape of the American South, as evoked in the popular imagination of “murder ballads” from the 19th and 20th centuries. Potter’s seductive, richly detailed black-and-white images channel the setting and characters of these songs, capturing the landscape and creating evocative portraits that stand in for the often-unnamed women at the center of their stories.  

The free public gathering will also feature a brief discussion with Potter and copies of her book for sale. 

Nashville author Margaret Renkl discussed “Dark Waters” for The New York Times Book Review June 12, saying that Potter’s book “upends the tradition altogether” by showcasing where the crimes immortalized in the songs can take place — and often have. 

“The landscapes in these photographs are not so much threatening as bereft of protection,” Renkl wrote in To Enter This Place Alone Is to Take a Risk

“In the South, our most isolated places are at once the most beautiful and the most blood-soaked, and Ms. Potter understands that women are in no way the sole victims of this violent legacy.” 

Potter, who teaches in the college’s Department of Media Arts, earned her Master of Fine Arts from Yale University and displayed her creativity in MTSU’s 2022 Photography Faculty Exhibition. Her work explores masculine archetypes, the American landscape and cultural tendencies toward mythologizing the past.  

In her original Dark Waters collection, Potter uses video, photographs and sound to depict threatening waters and the people around them and investigates a feedback loop between nature and myth: how a threatening landscape primes a culture for violence, and a violent culture projects threat onto a landscape.  

Her book, with text by Brooklyn-based author Rebecca Bengal, features 63 images of places like Murder Creek, Bloody Fork and Deadman’s Pond, which are haunted by both the victim and perpetrator of violence in the world Potter conjures. 

Along with her 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship, Potter is the 2019-20 recipient of the Grand Prix Images Vevey. In 2021, her work was included in “But Still, It Turns,” an exhibition and book curated by Paul Graham that launched at the International Center of Photography in New York and traveled to France’s prestigious Rencontres d’Arles summer photography festival in 2022. Her first monograph, “Manifest,” was published by TBW Books in 2018.  

For more information about Potter and her work, visit her website, •

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