Claire Johnson ’24: A View from Both Sides of the Camera Lens

For graduating senior Claire Johnson, her years at William Paterson University can be chronicled in photos. 

An art major graduating summa cum laude, Johnson started as a freshman at William Paterson in 2020, when all courses were online because of COVID. The Cranford native subsequently describes her early days of college as lonely. But all that quickly changed during her sophomore year when she started an on-campus job as a student photographer for the University’s Marketing and Public Relations Department.

“It completely changed my college experience,” says Johnson, who describes herself as shy during high school. “Working as a photographer on campus got me out of my shell and gave me a lot of confidence. I know so many more people than I ever would have expected and it made me feel so much more comfortable here.”

Over the past few years, Johnson has captured a multitude of images depicting life at William Paterson, working with departments from all over campus and photographing events, people, and places—from Common Hour activities to WP jazz students performing at Dizzy’s Jazz Club in New York City to musician Colin Hay at Shea Center, among many others. Her photos have graced the University website, as well as its social media pages and promotional materials.

With the encouragement of her art professor, Robin Schwartz, Johnson also took the opportunity to showcase her photography skills for her Honors College thesis in the independent track, creating a photo book of images from Governors Island, a 172-acre island in New York Harbor that includes a park, dozens of historic buildings, and educational and cultural facilities. 

Johnson first began visiting the island in 2012 with her father, who is now a vice president of the Trust for Governors Island, and later did a horticultural internship there during high school. The 32-page photo book, entitled “Governor’s Island: Inside and Out,” reflects Johnson’s personal history and perspectives on the island as she has seen it grow and change over the years.

Her photographs chronicle both the natural beauty of the island as well as the insides and outsides of abandoned buildings and spaces that she found “beautiful in an empty way.”

“My photography skills improved through critiques, looking through photos with Professor Schwartz, and revisiting Governors Island to photograph it multiple times,” she says, noting that she also benefited from thesis advice and guidance from Honors College Dean Barbara Andrew and art professor James Blasi.

Images from her project were displayed this spring during her thesis class exhibit at Power Art Center and the “Here/Now” exhibition of student art at Ben Shahn Center for the Arts on campus.

Although more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it, Johnson is also one of the proud student faces portrayed in the University’s new “Powerhouse” marketing campaign, where she appears on everything from Tik Tok and Snapchat video ads to the cover of the University’s Admissions viewbook.

An aspiring photographer, Johnson’s experience participating as a subject for the advertising portraits taken by Ologie, the University’s marketing agency, was particularly interesting. 

“It was super exciting to see the agency photo shoot from behind the scenes with the whole crew there. I realized that is something I would love to do myself,” she says.

Other highlights of Johnson’s time at WP include making close friends through Theta Phi Alpha sorority and traveling to Paris on a spring break trip with the Honors College. She is planning to pursue a career in photography after graduation.