WKU alumna’s post-graduation photography pilgrimage

Griffin Fletcher

Awarded a Faculty-Undergraduate Student Engagement grant, WKU graduate Abby Potter of Bowling Green researched religious iconography, the study of the interpretation of images, for nearly two months in Bulgaria and Romania this summer. A photojournalism major, Potter documented the research through her camera.

Exhausted from the last four years of college and her European travels, Potter said photographing the trip provided not only a glimpse into the religious history of the Balkans, but a look into the confusion she experienced post-graduation. After practicing photojournalism throughout her time as a student, Potter said she forgot what originally interested her in photography.

“I have done photojournalism so long, I just needed to take some pretty pictures,” Potter said, describing her approach to photographing the trip. “It was just an opportunity for me to do what I wanted.”

The Ellis Walker Gallery premiered an exhibition of Potter’s photos from the trip, titled “Disjointed: A Millenial’s Pilgrimage,” on Friday, Sept. 14 from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibition will remain at the Ellis Walker Gallery until Oct. 15, where it will be featured for the Oct. 12 Bowling Green Gallery Hop, a tour of various Bowling Green galleries organized every few months where people may “hop” to and buy artwork from each gallery, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Potter said she used the word “disjointed” to name the exhibition because it presents only a fragmented history of her time abroad.

“There’s just no way I could possibly convey everything it was for me,” Potter said.

As part of Potter’s research, she participated in a variety of workshops and field trips to historical Bulgarian churches offered through the Balkan Heritage Field School in Bulgaria. The field school is funded entirely by the Balkan Heritage Foundation, a Bulgarian nonprofit with the mission to “support the protection, conservation, management and promotion of cultural and historical … heritage of Southeastern Europe,” according to the organization’s website.

Potter said the field school provided her with an opportunity to research and rediscover herself.

“It gave me not only an opportunity to do academic research, but an opportunity to find out who I am,” Potter said. “It was a spiritual journey for me.”

The majority of the exhibition’s photos deal with religious and personal subject matter, including an image of a nun praying inside a Romanian church, various images of Eastern Orthodox iconography and even a picture of a field of sunflowers, which Potter said she photoed simply because she wanted to.

“You’re just getting glimpses of a much bigger thing,” Potter said while explaining the spontaneous nature of the photos in the exhibition. “It was just an opportunity for me to do what I wanted.”

Bailey Jordan, a senior majoring in the fine arts, works as an intern at the Ellis Walker Gallery. Jordan said she believes Potter’s photos are varied yet still go well together, making for a cohesive exhibition.

“Her photos you can kind of get lost in,” Jordan said. “Each one has a different story, but they all go together.”

Bowling Green resident Sarah Johnston, Ellis Walker Gallery co-owner, said she believes the exhibition challenges its viewers to consider the sometimes “disjointed” nature of their own lives.

“It’s an exhibit, to me, that begs more questions,” Johnston said. “To me, that’s what good art does.”

Johnston said she and her husband founded the Ellis Walker Gallery to do just that, providing Bowling Green a space to gather and enjoy art that provokes further questions and consideration, which she believes strengthens community ties.

“I think art builds community,” Johnston said. “We wanted to have a space to bring people together.”

After working in an art museum in Pittsburgh for years, retired Bowling Green resident Matthew Fleischman arrived in Bowling Green hoping to maintain his connection to art. After discovering the Ellis Walker Gallery and the BG Gallery Hop, Fleischman said he felt reconnected with one of his favorite pastimes.

“I just love to come here and spend an hour,” Fleischman said while observing Potter’s exhibition. “It just makes me feel good to get to experience great art.”

Delois Walters of Bowling Green works as a librarian at the Warren County Public Library. Walters said she enjoyed her visit to the exhibition, as she appreciates the work of Bowling Green artists.

“I love coming out to support local artists,” Walters said. “This is my way of enjoying art.”

Emily Witthuhn of Bowling Green graduated from WKU and works with Walters as a library assistant at the Warren County Public Library. Witthuhn is Potter’s sister, and she visited Potter in Romania for the last nine days of the trip. She said she enjoyed the opportunity to see her sister compile the entirety of her trip into a single exhibition.

“It just was really beautiful to see all these different pieces of who Abby is finally coming together in one project,” Witthuhn said.

Witthuhn said she believes the exhibition makes for an interesting though not easily defined viewing experience.

“I think it’s the kind of story that allows us to not know where we’re going and to enjoy it for what it is,” Witthuhn said. “I think that’s a good way for us to connect with the people around us.”

Reporter Griffin Fletcher can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected].