Photojournalist Alex Potter
"I try to make a bridge between the viewer and those in the story"
Interview: Nezih Tavlas / July 28, 2021
(Credit: Cengiz Yar)
Photojournalism News:. What drew you to photojournalism?
Alex Potter: I was still in middle / high school when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan started. I grew up in a very small town and was always interested in the world beyond rural America. Being a bit of a contrarian, I was pretty anti-war as a young person, not always popular opinion in a small town. I started off following people like Ami Vitale, Lynsey Addario, Ed Ou, and Ron Haviv, and just kind of went down the rabbit hole from there.
Photojournalism News: What equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite lens/camera?
Alex Potter: I have a Nikon D800 with a 35mm and 50mm lens. I’ve cycled through a few mirrorless cameras, but this one works best for me. I’ve never really felt the need to upgrade because everything still works!
Photojournalism News: What social media platforms do you use?
Alex Potter: The standard - Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. Though they all kind of blend together these days.
Instagram - @alexkpotter
Twitter - @alexkpotter
Facebook - www.facebook.com/alexkaypotter
Photojournalism News: How do you prepare yourself before any assignment? What would you put in your camera bag for a typical task?
Alex Potter: I’m very low-tech, so really just my camera and 3 lenses that I have worked for pretty much any assignment. However, I really research the location, climate, and social situation I’m going into and prepare in that respect. Your comfort on long days, ability to blend into the crowd, etc, they’re all essential in photojournalism.
Photojournalism News: How would you best describe your style of work? What are you trying to say with your photography?
Alex Potter: I definitely have a more documentary style than breaking news, but I try to make a bridge between the viewer and those in the story, so that someone looking at these images can relate to the subject of the story on one level or another.
Photojournalism News: How many photos do you take for one story?
Alex Potter: It really varies wildly, depending on the story and situation. I’m a minimalist though, so I try to spend more time in a single situation that will make a great frame, rather than snapping all over the place.
Photojournalism News: What is the last trip you made?
Alex Potter: I’ve been shooting pretty locally to where I’m at since the pandemic started, but I’d love to get back to Yemen at some point.
Photojournalism News: What projects will you be working on next?
Alex Potter: Right now I’m a bit domesticated, working as an editor for an ultra-running publication, iRunFar, and settling in to a new life in Flagstaff, Arizona. Don’t have any projects on the docket while my partner is in Paramedic school, but I’d eventually like to make that jump back to the Middle East or somewhere else I feel called to.
Photojournalism News: Which of your photographs would you describe as your favourite? What makes them so special to you?
Alex Potter: I have one from Yemen taken from the top of a mountain during a Houthi rally in 2013 (?) just when they were gathering power. I feel like I used everything in my photojournalism toolbox that day - persuasion, trust, endurance, blending in, aesthetics of the image etc. It might not be everyone’s favorite, but it was a very intense and special moment for me. It’s hard to say ‘favorite’ but there are probably 5-10 others that are in my top ten favorites for various reasons.
Photojournalism News: What does a photo need to be a great in your eyes?
Alex Potter: I can tell when the photographer is passionate about the work they’re doing - I think it very obviously comes off in photos, even in my own. I like to have some sort of aesthetic or emotional connection to what is going on in the scene.
(All images © Courtesy of Alex Potter)
Photojournalism News: What motivates you to continue taking pictures and what do you do to keep motivated?
Alex Potter: Honestly, it is hard to stay motivated in the market today. But this is why I’ve always had a side hustle - I want every project I pursue to be something I really care about, not just filler assignments. I think everyone is bouncing back from a COVID-induced coma right now. When I care about a story, a person, a group of people, or country, that is what motivates me really.
Photojournalism News: What was the biggest professional risk you have taken and what was the outcome?
Alex Potter: Honestly just starting off as a photojournalist. I bought a camera, started photographing, took a week long workshop, took my very little savings and moved overseas. I didn’t have any editorial connections, I didn’t have a family that could finance my career, so for the first few years, I really made no money. Luckily I had my nursing degree that allowed me to go home, pay some bills, and go back out there.
Photojournalism News: What would be your dream assignment?
Alex Potter: Probably to go back to reporting full time in Yemen, living there. But the editorial interest in that country waxes and wanes so much, as well as circumstances there aren’t conducive to full time living, I don’t see this happening in the near future.
Photojournalism News: What are the essential skills/ qualities a photojournalist should have?
Alex Potter: Flexibility, creative drive, compassion, mental and physical endurance. Also a good sense of how to run a business, which is something I wish I would have honed earlier.
Photojournalism News: What do you think about the digital manipulation of images?
Alex Potter: I feel like if the author of the image is clear that it has been digitally manipulated for creative purposes, beyond what would be natural in the dark room, and is very honest with the audience, it is fine. The photographer just has to make it clear that the images aren’t presented as they were captured in real life. If it’s just basic toning, lighting, contrast to improve the quality of the image or to fit into that particular photographer’s style, great.
Photojournalism News: What does it mean to be an ethical photojournalist?
Alex Potter: Be honest. Be honest with your subjects, with your audience, consider how those you’re photographing would like to be portrayed, not only the goal of your assignment.
Photojournalism News: How do you see the role of photojournalism evolving in the world? Do you think photojournalism is losing its importance?
Alex Potter: Definitely not losing its importance, but I think photojournalism is defined by those who make it and those who consume it. So it’s definitely evolved and will continue to evolve.
Photojournalism News: What is it like to be a female photojournalist in a male-dominated field?
Alex Potter: I personally have had very few situations where it was a disadvantage. There have been a few situations where I’ve been harassed in a crowd, but being female in the areas I’ve worked has always worked to my advantage. I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by supportive colleagues, mentors, and editors, male and female. I’m sure there were probably situations where people were biased under the surface because of my gender, but I’ve always reached the goals I have in the field. I know this is not the case for everyone. But gender in any job I think is just another element to consider - if there is a disadvantage for any particular assignment, mitigate that, find a solution, and turn it into a strength.
Photojournalism News: Do you have any advice for aspiring photojournalists?
Alex Potter: When I started in 2012 people were talking about how photojournalism is dead. I think people will always talk about how it is dead or dying. But companies will always need creative images. Just know that there are more and more talented people with great connections and less opportunities for those ‘premier’ assignments that are fully funded to produce your dream work. Your dream project may have to be self-funded, take longer than you expect, and you really have to hustle to make it financially worth it. I mean when I was 22 years old I wasn’t worried about life savings, but at 31 I’m a little bit more grounded. So first of all know how to run a business and have a financial back up plan. Secondly, and most importantly - (1) make great images in a subject that you care about (2) make sure those images are seen by the right people (3) be kind and helpful to everyone you meet.
Alex Potter is a photographer and journalist from the Midwest working mostly in the Middle East with a long term focus on Yemen, Iraq, and divided communities. Alex's work explores conflict and trust, loss and isolation within communities and relationships. She aims to bridge the gap between the foreign and familiar by creating thought-provoking and emotional images.Alex is a trauma nurse and Vice President of Global Response Management, a humanitarian non-profit bringing emergency care to low-resource high-risk areas, and also spent two years as a wildland firefighter in Idaho. Alex is now based in Flagstaff, Arizona.