Life can throw us for quite a curveball sometimes. There are paths we never consider that we can find ourselves on, and end up thriving by taking a chance and going down them. Danielle Pottberg can certainly attest. While attending the Rhode Island School of Design to study art, photography was the last thing on her mind. In fact, she would only pick up a camera to document her art work. Art was her passion; photography was merely a tool to document it.
During her thesis presentation on textiles, an outside critic looked at her photographs and told her that she should look into photography instead. Ouch. “At the time, I was insulted,” Pottberg recalled. “Why focus on the photographs and not on the textile pieces? I didn’t see it as a compliment or an opportunity.” Luckily for Pottberg, that outside critic wasn’t the only person who saw she had another talent outside of her artwork – her photographs garnered quite a following on Instagram as well.
As she began to amass that following on her personal Instagram account, Pottberg’s focus turned more to photography then she ever anticipated, and an addiction to the craft began to blossom. Shooting solely with an iPhone, she eventually realized this was something she truly enjoyed doing. She also realized she probably needed to upgrade her equipment and buy an actual camera.
Living in New York City, Pottberg is an environment full of life, architectural eclecticism and a bountiful melting pot of people. She’s motivated by the prospect of getting swept up into captivating moments every time she heads out onto the street. “When I go out to shoot, I usually do not have an objective or an end shot in mind. I like to explore different areas of the city and capture the pulse there.” This is one of the reasons she doesn’t like shooting in a studio. Describing a set, Pottberg says they feel “so impersonal and flat,” something she doesn’t feel honors the art of photography. “Cameras capture a fleeting moment, which I think is what draws me to the medium. You can never capture the same shot twice. Light, atmosphere and circumstance will change.”
Despite how breezy Pottberg can be when trying to find that perfect shot, she’s laser focused on education reform. As a high school art teacher and a recent mother, Pottberg is using her photography to shine a light on the struggles of obtaining a quality, affordable education in America.
One particular day in her teaching career sticks out in her mind so much, she remembers the exact time it left a lasting impact: 3:33pm. Pottberg innocuously asked one of her students to make a wish. She then asked what it was he wished for, and learned it was for a billion dollars. When questioned further about what he would do with that large sum of money, he said that he would first hire a financial advisor and then move his family out of the projects. “It’s moments like that that move me,” Pottberg said. She wants to make sure that every child, including her own and her students, has the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
Dreams are malleable, however. The important part is to never give up on them, a philosophy that Pottberg lives by. “When I was little, I was dead set on becoming a lawyer because I wanted to make a difference. We had a career day, and a lawyer who hated his job came in to speak with us. Within about 20 minutes he convinced me that being a lawyer would suck the life out of me and I should continue to be in the arts instead. [He told me] I could make a change [in the arts] and I should not give up my passion as an artist. I need to find him and thank him.”
Armed with 54,000 followers on Instagram and with a website launching soon, Pottberg hopes that she’ll be able to use her photographs to convey what’s truly important to her: reforming the education system and inspiring others to follow their dreams just as she did. But to do so, she knows that she needs to keep it personal.
“I think sharing parts of yourself with your audience is really important. They want to know a little more about the person behind the lens. Photography has been what’s saved me in NYC. I hated it here when I first moved, but once I started taking photos and meeting other photographers, the city didn’t feel so vast, unfriendly and shitty after all.”
If Pottberg has her way, her photography won’t just continue serving as her saving grace, but could play that role for other people as well. “Whether you inspire adventure or quiet contemplation, each time you share an image there’s a chance to reach out to someone who may feel lonely, trapped or overwhelmed. I will not take up precious air space to sell a product when I could instead be promoting self-worth, reflection or real change.”