Photo Credit: Claire Johnson
Black Doctor Turned Photographer Shares Stunning Photos Of African Tribes
Claire Johnson has captured some of the most beautiful and captivating photos of African tribes. She has found that she is able to spread joy to those she photographs. A proud mother of two adult children, Claire is a medical doctor by profession, however, she is also a skilled photographer and FAA-certified licensed drone pilot.
Claire has spent the last three years working remotely, consulting for a healthcare company while she explores the world, documenting her travels through photography. Before that, Claire practiced medicine in Florida and various other places around the world as an obstetrician. In fact, she has delivered babies and performed surgery in many countries.
Working in countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Chad, Claire began taking photos in her spare time when she was finished work. Some of the African tribes Claire has photographed include the Dassanach, Hamar, Silte and Mursi tribes.
She photographed the Maasai tribe while living with them when she worked in one of their clinics. Claire has also taken photos of the nomadic Fulani tribe known as the Peul, which were featured on CNN Africa.
Photographing the many people she met around the world, Claire discovered that she could bring more smiles and laughs with her camera and drone than she could through her work in medicine.
“Although photography is not a critical life-saving field like medicine, I could bring lots of joy and excitement and leave an impact in another way. In the Western world, we take for granted that we can see ourselves daily on our phones, in mirrors, and on cameras.”
“Many do not have the same luxury where I have photographed. In addition to sharing what I’ve immediately photographed, I always bring an Instax or Polaroid camera so I can give photos as gifts. They are greatly valuable. I have seen so much wonder from people being able to see what they look like. It is truly like looking within.”
Claire recalls seeing the wonder on the faces of many African tribes members as they watched her launch her drone for the first time. Back in 2018, many tribes hadn’t seen one. After the initial apprehension came the excitement, followed by another level of excitement brought by seeing themselves on the screen.
“I have some great pics of everyone gathered around me looking at my camera screen as the drone is above us. I also love seeing that people of all ages want to have their image to keep. Initially, I thought that it would only be young children who wanted an Instax photo. I remember the first time that an elderly tribesman walked up to me and pointed to my camera and then to himself, designating that he wanted a photo. We all have that desire no matter what, and it is a gift that we can all give during our travels.”
Claire says she has learned a great deal by photographing people during her travels. She has learned that we, as people, are more similar than different. Despite our varying cultural backgrounds, the same things bring us innate joy.
“Joy is readily available to us in the First World, and it’s not possessions. It’s human connection and experiences; those are most valuable and lasting. I’ve also seen that people of African tribes and others worldwide are just as intrigued by us as we are by them.”
“You’d think that as an American dressed in plain clothing, I wouldn’t be as intriguing as a tribal member in all of her decadence, but the Mursi women were intrigued by me. They wanted to touch my hair and my body to see how it was similar to and different from theirs. I appreciated that because in so many areas of the world, Westerners are intrusive when they travel. They treat locals like animals in a cage, which we should never do.”
Claire says travelers can avoiding behaving intrusively by establishing a connection with people before attempting to photograph them. We can do this by sitting down for a meal with them and showing them photos of us and our families. We should get to know them a bit and allow them the opportunity to get to know and feel comfortable with us.
“I always create a connection before photographing, and of course, I always ask for permission. Once I have it, I photograph a lot and don’t ask every time. But I initially build a rapport and connection and don’t just jump out of my car taking pictures.”
Having traveled to 100 countries, all 50 states, and see all seven New Wonders of the World, Claire has no plans to stop traveling anytime soon. She currently resides in the Eurasian country of Georgia, where she moved for geoarbitrage (moving to a place that has a lower cost of living while maintaining the same level of income.) She also plans to also spend several months in Croatia, Montenegro, and Turkey this year.
“The Republic of Georgia is a beautiful and extremely safe country. I could wander late at night by myself anywhere in Tblisi and not have any problems. It’s extremely inexpensive like Southeast Asia, so that is the main draw. I love to hike and there are limitless opportunities. With three different climates, you can go from mountains and snow to lush green to the beautiful coast land within hours. It’s also the birthplace of wine and the cuisine is delicious. My favorite area is Kazbegi which is an area engulfed in the Caucaucas Mountains.”
To view more of Claire’s photography work, follow her at @daisyamongroses.