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Ashley Potter '09

A Natural Photographer

The world is opening up to Ashley Potter through her passion for international human rights and the view through the lens of her 35 millimeter Pentax.

Ashley is a self-taught photographer, and she loves the challenge of capturing the “verb” in the photo—the instant when genuine human interaction takes place.

“My mother had a really nice camera she’d never let me touch, so of course I became fascinated by it,” she said. “When I’m taking pictures I’m completely absorbed and at peace. It comes so naturally to me.”

With the camera slung over her shoulder, Ashley travelled to the Philippines last year with sociology professor Vangie Blust and three other GMC students. Thanks to a grant from the ASIANetwork Freeman Foundation Student-Faculty Fellows Program, the group spent three weeks in Barangay Talisay, a community about 49 miles south of Manila, studying what happens to families when Filipino adults leave the country to work overseas.

Millions of Filipinos work as nurses, laborers or domestics in places like Hong Kong, Europe, or the United States, Ashley said, because wages are so much higher there. The money they send home provides their families with life necessities and a higher standard of living, including education at private schools. But Filipino children are often deprived of one or both parents, and the responsibility of child-rearing falls to older siblings, grandparents or other relatives.

For Ashley and her fellow students, it was a jarring snapshot of social displacement caused by the complexities of a global economy. Some families Ashley met were shy about having their picture taken, because the emotional wound of a missing parent or older sibling was too raw. Both parents in Ashley’s host family were committed to working near home and raising their children, but staying together required big financial sacrifices. The family had to borrow money to make ends meet, and using the toilet in the bathroom required manually filling the tank with a bucket of water from a communal faucet. Other fault lines in the social terrain of the Philippines were more surprising.

“I talked with one teen-aged girl who was upset that her father was coming home after being away for two years,” Ashley said. “She knew the reunion was going to cut into social time with her friends.”

Based on her experience in the Philippines, Ashley is committed to a career path where she can tell stories about social causes through the lens of her camera. While finishing up her studies as a sociology/anthropology major at GMC, she’s getting her portfolio together for the SALT Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine, a program dedicated to teaching storytelling through documentary photography. She’s also doing a lot of independent reading on photojournalism.

“I’m not sure there are other schools where I could have done all this,” Ashley said. “The research we did has helped me acquire new skills—I’ve become more proficient in public speaking, interviewing, and working with individuals and groups at a professional level.”

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