January 29, 2015 | 4 p.m.
By Monique Kleinhuizen, Communications Strategist
Alex Potter ’11 joined a line-up of professional photojournalists asked to speak in an Interim course sponsored in part by the Johnson Center for Journalism and Communication. Professor and Department of Journalism Chair Phyllis Alsdurf noted that the class offered opportunities for students in diverse majors to get practical photography skills and gain an understanding of photojournalism. The idea of non-journalism majors learning to tell stories through photographer isn’t a new one to Potter.
She graduated with a degree in nursing, but she had her sights set far beyond a medical career in the Midwest. Originally from Windom, Minnesota—which boasts a population smaller than Bethel’s—she had always dreamt of living abroad. Potter recalled the commencement speaker focusing on humanitarian work overseas, cementing her plans. “I thought, ‘It’s possible! I can actually do this,’” said Potter.
Potter launched her career in photojournalism by taking on a variety of unpaid gigs and raising travel expenses through Kickstarter. She quickly gained a reputation in the photojournalism world, capturing life in areas of unrest, mostly in the Middle East. She views her photojournalism career as akin to nursing, using images instead of medicine to break the grip of injustice and poverty. Middle Eastern women—one of Potter’s favorite subjects—live in a world of stark contrasts. Says Potter, “Even if they’re covered, they’re some of the most powerful women out there,” something that’s not often understood by Western media or cultures. She hopes that storytelling through photos like hers will help Middle Eastern women, “to be judged for what’s in their head and not what’s on their head.” When asked why she would give up having a family and a home in the United States, Potter insists, “it’s worth it to give up a lot of what would be comfort to raise the profile of those who are struggling, those who need a boost to get their stories told.”
In her current home in Yemen, daily routines are punctuated by violence and unrest. “One day we have bombs; the next day we have fireworks,” says Potter. It’s within this landscape that the resilience of normal people is most striking. Just hours before her campus presentation to alumni and students, Potter had heard of the Yemeni government resigning. “There’s no president, no prime minister…it’s essentially a failed state. But [the Yemeni’s] faith in God astounds me,” she says.
“Alex's experience demonstrates that even students who have majored in a professional degree with the intention of working in a specific field can tap into a deep reservoir of liberal arts skills and knowledge that enable them to pursue a wide range of interests and opportunities,” says Barrett Fisher, associate dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. “Visits from graduates like Alex provide compelling evidence that whatever discipline students choose as their major, they leave Bethel with a desire to expand their vision of the world, develop strong and mutually respectful relationships across cultural and religious borders, and use their gifts in service to others.”
Alex Potter has worked on assignment for The New York Times, Associated Press, Stern, Human Rights Watch, and Reuters. She has been selected for the LOOKBetween Fellowship, the NYTimes Portfolio Review, the Eddie Adams Workshop, and the Chris Hondros Student Fellowship. She also spent a year in Lebanon as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. View Potter’s work at alexkaypotter.com.