Photography Travel

Photos Share Bold Perspective in Social Justice and Art

Meet Will Potter

Will Potter is a globally recognized, award-winning photographer who brings a unique and evolving perspective to the arts as well as social justice initiatives. I appreciate that he straddles documentary and fine art photography. I recently jumped at the chance to interview him when I saw he had flown to Beirut, just after after the terrible explosion at the port. His mission was to document the work of the non-profit Gift Global Initiative, a Humanitarian Organization advocating for and empowering the most disadvantaged and vulnerable families with a special focus on children.

Hi Will, I appreciate your time and happy to share your work as you are doing some inspiring work. Let’s jump right in!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your photography.

My photos are combinations of experiences both real and imagined. I’m drawn to things which remind me of the deep magic that can be found in everyday life. Growing up in Pittsburgh in the mid-1970’s I experienced much of the outside world sitting in the back seat of my parents 1972 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon.

Coming home from a late dinner at grammy’s in Beaver Falls I’d press my face up against frost bitten December windows, gazing into the night as we sped along the Ohio River. On one side of the river is where people lived and on the other is where they worked. Steel mills raged through the night spitting out orange, glowing, molten rivers of “Slag,” a lava like steel byproduct which snaked its way down frozen river banks, disappearing into the cold, dark Ohio. As beautiful as it was alternately violent. I learned it was here, between these two extremes, that life existed.

Some of your work is fine art photography and some of your work addresses social justice initiatives. Are you seeking to achieve anything specific with your work in either genre?
The collages are an amalgam of different experiences woven together to evoke a feeling of something entirely new. Something that communicates in a previously unthought of way both visually and emotionally. Some are built with a specific theme in mind while others reveal themselves during the assemblage.

Will Potter Photography
Beirut -Will Potter Photography

 I currently shoot for an NGO, Gift Global Initiative, founded by United States Ambassador Keith Kirkwood and his partner Mana Dabholkar, They currently have programs running in Mexico, Lebanon, Cape Verde, and India. Their underlying ethos is helping people to help themselves become self-sufficient by creating sustainable business models which produce needed and wanted goods. They offer a hand up, not a hand-out.  Additionally GIFT operates as a team of first responders delivering aid directly into the hands of disaster affected people such as their outreach in Lebanon two weeks after the third largest single explosion in history devastated many parts of Beirut.

My job is to provide visual documentation of everything, the good, the bad and in too many cases the ugly. Over the past year and a half I have been on many trips to the most brutal slum Tijuana has to offer, run by one of the many drug cartels. The slum is a huge money maker for the cartel by way of human trafficking of children and women, prostitution, the collection rental money on every single plywood shanty as well as the recruiting of boys starting at the age of 12 for training as child hitmen.

The trip to Beirut was focused on delivering goods and helping connect people with local NGO’s. Despite the overwhelming amount of adversity people in both countries are still able to find the will to survive and to smile and to sometimes dream.

Through my photos, Gift Global Initiative is able to raise awareness and money and donated goods as well as enlist the help of other concerned people. On our last trip to Mexico they teamed up with a couple of Australian dentists traveling on vacation for an all day event of dental exams and cleaning. Most of the children and young adults had never been to a dentist.

Otherwise my stuff is super eclectic as I am interested in just about everything but country music. And even some of that is actually extremely interesting now that I think of it.

Will Potter Photography
Keith Kirkwood – Will Potter Photography

Photography and traveling seems like a wonderfully romantic life, what are some of the illusions or realities about this lifestyle? Please share the good and bad.

 It is tremendously fun and inspiring and sometimes very tough regarding the hardships you witness others having to go through.  There are many very long days of shooting with little or no food or water because of the location not having either resource clean or available.  What gets me through is the undying interest in seeking out and capturing compelling images.  I never get tired of looking at photos.  I’m currently putting together a photo book of my early days in LA when I was out and about.  Pre-cell phone camera and selfies I always had my trusty Canon S80 at my side when I was on the town til all hours, shooting anything and everything.

I am also a writer.  My writing partner, Isa Totah and I currently have a production deal on one screenplay with one of the most storied producers in Hollywood.  Loosely based on his life growing up Arab American it is incredibly funny and dramatic. Recently we finished a new one about two Iraq wars soldiers living in a camper in the edge of a small desert town.  It deals with the idea of what one person owes another after his life is saved. A life for a life?  This too is dramatic with many comedic moments woven throughout as Tony, the protagonist struggles with a life stuck in the past. Please visit a group of short films we have shot which are based on these two screenplays as well as some other subjects.  

Additionally I’m 120 pages into a book on my own. A coming of age, character driven story with a backdrop of supernatural. Additionally I have an Amazon business with another good friend. I am incredibly lucky to be able to work with and for people I consider to be the very closest of friends. Having fun and a lot of laughs, even when the going to really tough is paramount to anything I am involved in. 

I am very thankful and fortunate to say that if my life were a movie it would certainly not be unmemorable.

Jane by Will Potter
Jane – Will Potter Photography

What is your go-to camera when traveling?
Sony a6300 is my main donkey. It’s a great fairly compact camera and
kicks ass!

Any favorite lens? Bags, specific tools, memory cards, hard-drives or accessories? Are there gadgets that you love that you would recommend to others?
My favorite lens is a super wide angle Sony-Zeiss E mount, 10-18. LOVE IT! Don’t fuss around with cheap sim cards. Get the Sandisk Extreme Pro. Always have backups!

Links to Amazon:

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Are there any unique challenges and hazards when it comes to traveling remotely with your gear? Any suggestions for fellow travelers about overcoming these challenges?
Keep the camera dry!!!!! Even a few drops of water along the lens mounting point can sneak in and spot the camera sensor.

Are there any specific travel photographers or fine art photographers that inspire you?  
I’m constantly inspired by photos I see by professional and non professional people alike on instagram and the internet and once in a while even on the Bumble. (lol)

Where are your favorite travel destinations for your photography? Please share a favorite photo(s) from there.
I love shooting in the desert. Joshua Tree, Anza Borrego and along the shores of the Salton Sea. I’ve also done some really cool shoots in the train-yards at night, downtown LA.

Salton Sea by Will Potter
Salton Sea – Will Potter Photography

To see more of Will Potter’s work visit and check out his instagram @willpotter_photography

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