In 1998 I stepped off the plane in Durbin, South Africa, my first trip to an “exotic” destination. During that visit, I journeyed up the Sani Pass to photograph the indigenous people of Lesotho, know to many as the “Blanket People” because of the colorful, hand-woven blankets the young herdsmen wear to keep them warm out on the open plains. It wasn’t until I returned to Durbin and processed by film that I was struck by the soulful expressions of these young men who lead such a challenging lifestyle. Those images became the catalyst that began a turning point in my life and my career.

— Joyce Birkenstock

When I returned home, I began a series of paintings from the photographs I had taken in Lesotho, discovering a love of ethnic and cultural portraiture. Six months later, I was on my way to China to photograph the ethnic minorities of the Southwest. I haven’t stopped traveling since to destinations such as India, Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Tibet, Papua New Guinea, Bali, Japan, Morocco, Ethiopia, Mexico and Central and South America.

Initially, my journeys were a search for subject matter for my paintings, but they have quickly become much more than a quest for surface images. The experience of meeting and interacting with my subjects ahs been a blessing for which I am so very grateful. One cannot return home unchanged emotionally, spiritually, artistically, and most importantly, philosophically. We are, after all, one humanity spread across this globe. I have been to exotic and unique places, and along the way, I have encountered people who have been indelibly etched in my mind’s eye. I have discovered the power and value of our shared human experience, and I have felt the shift to a new global perspective of our surprisingly small world.