Potter turns her lens on the work of men

Potter turns her lens on the work of men

WOONSOCKET - We've seen the ladies: a group of some of Woonsocket's most notable women beautifully photographed and accompanied by stories told in their own voice.

Now Judith Potter, professional photographer and author of "A Feminine Touch, Women Working in Woonsocket," has focused her lens on the other gender and the labor they've contributed to the city on the move.

Her new book, "A Man's View, Men Working in Woonsocket," serves to capture the city's past and present both visually, and through tales told by some of its most successful male citizens.

Potter photographed 41 men for the book and asked them a series of questions related to their lives and experience in Woonsocket. Her chosen subjects' answers are published in their entirety, with only minor edits, just like in the ladies' edition. From priests and musicians, to florists and restaurant owners, in Potter's world, they all have a story to tell.

If her first work is any indication, the product will offer plenty for both history buffs and those who live and work in the community. The book is also an artistic endeavor, thanks to Potter's eye for style, and reviews, so far, have been favorable.

"I look at Potter's photographs not just as records of men who embodied the community, but also as the faces that will one day grace the wall of a place like the Museum of Work and Culture," said C. Morgan Grefe, director of the Rhode Island Historical Society. "This work will make it much easier for historians of the future: 'Who shaped Woonsocket?' they will ask. Just look inside and you'll know."

"A compilation of personal stories and Judith Potter's beautifully crafted portraits, the book is an enjoyable read that can be savored over time," said Valley Breeze Publisher Tom Ward.

Readers may be surprised to learn that this comprehensive local snapshot was created by a relative outsider.

A Maryland native, Potter arrived at the idea of creating books focused on Woonsocket, not by exploring local history or by attempting to capture her own story, but in the way of a true artist: visually.

Potter moved from Pawtucket into a gorgeous three-story colonial on Harris Avenue in 1999, after searching for an appropriate place to create a home photography studio.

"I really had nothing to do with Woonsocket. I had no business here," she said. "The night before we signed, I opened up a map and said 'Where the heck is Woonsocket again?'"

The unique center staircase home, built in 1905, suited her needs perfectly, with various nooks to create seating areas, original woodwork and abundant natural lighting.

Years later, Potter took on a job restoring several postcards of Woonsocket from the early 1900s, filling in cracks and age spots to create prints that would later hang in the Pond Street building that houses the Woonsocket Housing Authority.

"When you have that on your screen and you're just filling in teeny tiny dots and dust spots, you really notice the details," said Potter, who was impressed by the city's architecture and the grandeur of its past.

"I was working on those postcards from the turn of the century and seeing how busy it was and all of the fantastic things that they were doing," she said. "Everything is just so fun and built up. There was so much going on."

The photographs got Potter thinking.

"As an outsider, I came in and had a beautiful home and a wonderful neighborhood and it was quite comfortable," she said. "But my needs were different than a lot of these other women that were here. I came in because the house was conducive to photography."

Why, she wondered, were these other men and women here? Why had they stayed in Woonsocket when it seemed much of the city's heyday had long passed by?

The postcards came from a collection of more than 500 of scenes from across the city during another, livelier time. Those cards now provide the backdrop for both of Potter's books.

"A Man's View" will be released at the book signing at the Museum of Work and Culture on Nov. 21, the Thursday before Thanksgiving, from 5 to 7 p.m. Potter held a similar event during the same week when she released her first work in 2010, and the book was sold out by Christmas.

It's not the only way Potter has created a quirky, often visual deja-vu for her fans.

On the cover of "A Feminine Touch," a photo of a group of female mill workers is transposed behind a waist-down shot of a woman wearing red heels and carrying a briefcase.

The front of "A Man's View" has a black and white backdrop of a construction crew, with the torso and legs of a suited man carrying a briefcase and wearing red socks in the foreground.

The footwear detail gave Potter an idea that allowed her to extend the theme to her book signing event. All 41 men are expected to be in attendance, and all wearing red socks. For the cost of $1, guests can buy a raffle ticket, which they'll place in the hat of the man they believe to be the cover model.

Potter, who now serves on the board of the museum, will donate half of the proceeds from the raffle to the venue.

The author will hold a second book signing on Dec. 5 at the Woonsocket Harris Library from 5 to 7 p.m.

Individuals profiled in the book include Police Chief Thomas Carey, Athletic Department Director George Nasuti, state Sen. Roger Picard, and former mayor Charles Baldelli, to name a few. Each responded to a series of questions posed by the artist including: What first brought you to Woonsocket? Do you have any favorite places? Will you/your organization leave a legacy for the people of Woonsocket?

Most of the individuals were photographed by Potter in their homes.

"It was just very welcoming and nice because I am an outsider and they're sharing their story with me," she said of the experience.

Those who have seen advance copies of the book have emphasized its educational value, and Potter has decided to donate several to city schools, where they may influence the next generation of city leaders.

Jeff Gamache, program director for 1380 WNRI, felt it would be a good read for the city's up and comings.

"An inspiration to all young men growing up in Woonsocket," said Gamache. "Great stories of people, some grew up in public housing, most graduated from our public schools, and all became prominent leaders in Woonsocket."