Photojournalist Alex Potter on making connections, learning about other cultures, and passionately pursuing her goals.
I was a nursing major, but I knew halfway through school that I wanted to do something with photojournalism. That said, I’m glad I stuck with the nursing major. Most of the photojournalists I admire studied something else. It gave me a knowledge base in something different. Nursing has informed and sometimes enabled stories I’ve wanted to cover, like a story I did on malnutrition in Yemen. It’s the advocacy part of nursing that really stuck.
A photographer friend of mine gave me great advice: “If you want to do a story, just do it.” You have to immerse yourself in the world you want to photograph. That’s how I ended up in Yemen the first time. I was visiting friends in Jordan and reading about countries involved in the Arab Spring. Yemen was having a presidential election after 33 years of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rule. I figured it would be a good time to connect with other journalists.
Yemen is a complicated place. It’s plagued by Al Qaeda, a fragile new government, an insurgency in the north, malnutrition, and an economy highly controlled by qat, a leaf that a lot of the population chews because it’s a stimulant. But it’s also a beautiful country with people passionate about their land, their families, God, and each other. We actually have a lot in common with them. I was welcomed like family into so many lives. That’s why I want to go back. There are very few photojournalists working in Yemen, and little to no coverage of stories that aren’t related to Al Qaeda.
I love building bridges and spreading knowledge. I think the Middle East is misunderstood. I love the people there. It’s hard to convey the human aspect of a conflict or situation, but the more we understand each other the less we fear each other. Less fear means less hatred.
A lot of people question whether women should go into conflict situations. But in conservative countries like Yemen male journalists don’t have access to half of society. Men wouldn’t be allowed to go into homes, they wouldn’t be able to talk to women. I’m really interested in how conflict affects women and families. When I did the story on malnutrition I went into people’s homes and hung out with their families and their kids.
When I go back to Yemen I want to continue covering malnutrition. The international community isn’t really paying attention. It’s the second most chronically malnourished country in the world for children under 5, after Afghanistan. You don’t hear about that. Things that affect people personally are important.
To be successful at something takes two things: passion and making good work. I’m passionate about people and nations in transition, in fragile situations.
I hope one day I can inspire someone like others have inspired me. Not my face or my name, but the stories that I’ve told or the photos I’ve taken. I hope they can awaken curiosity in someone. I hope they can highlight struggles and injustices to prevent them from happening in the future.
I love traveling. I went to India my sophomore year, Jordan my junior year, and Uganda my senior year. It might not’ve been the best financial decision, but things pay off in different ways later on. You should study abroad while you have the opportunity. It ends up costing a lot more when you’re not a student, as far as time and planning. And it gives you the confidence to travel by yourself later in life.
Be passionate but not reckless, impulsive but not careless, and always move towards what gives you life.
More info about Alex
College of Arts & Sciences
Photography, running, maps, languages, exploring (especially at night)