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Biography

James G. Barbee

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the artist’s family moved to the small town of Columbia Mississippi when he was three years old. He spent most of the years of his childhood there but went on to college at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida and graduated with a dual major in Biology and Chemistry. He entered medical school at Tulane, and then began his residency training in psychiatry at Washington University in Saint Louis, completing it at the University of California San Diego. Upon graduation in 1982 he returned as a faculty member at the LSU School of Medicine in New Orleans where he rose to the position of Professor of Psychiatry, Pharmacology and Neuroscience until he entered private practice as a psychiatrist in 2009.

Jim began his training in photography as an undergraduate at the University of Miami, taking a course in the subject in the semester before entering medical school. Despite the long hours and demands of his medical career, he continued his interest in fine art and photography, attending museums and shows throughout the country whenever possible. He continued making photographs throughout medical school and residency, setting up darkrooms in the closets of his apartments as he moved about the country. Upon moving to California, he fell under the spell of the California landscape, traveling hundreds of miles around the state whenever his schedule allowed, working primarily with a 4 x 5-inch view camera in the tradition of such greats as Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, and Edward Weston.  After moving back to New Orleans, he continued trips out west, and notes that one of his greatest accomplishments during this time was learning how to lightproof the bathroom of any cheap hotel in the country in order to load the film holders necessary in large-format photography. He had his first image accepted in a show in 1992, but over time, he grew frustrated by his failure to evolve artistically beyond his early influences, and the relatively limited range of creative controls possible with film-based photography in that era. Searching for a new direction, he shelved his camera and began drawing and painting in oils for almost 20 years, taking numerous courses at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts (NOAFA). It was while using a digital camera to take photographs for paintings that he began to appreciate the possibilities inherent in digital photography. Around this time, he also happened to attend a show of William Eggleston’s photographs, taken mostly in the American South—the passion was back! He took courses at NOAFA in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop but credits the years of drawing and painting (which he continues) as a strong influence in his creative process in making photographs at this time in his life. He also cites his work as a psychiatrist as another important creative influence as his work has evolved. Over the years, he has watched as his patients often are forced to struggle with undeserved adversity, trying to make sense of their lives and the world in which they live, encompassing both the terrible beauty and horror. It is that same complexity that the artist hopes is apparent in his photographs.

In 2014 he entered a chapbook into the Blue Library Competition, sponsored by PhotoNOLA, which was selected as a finalist for printing entitled, Beneath a Cruel Sun: Highway 66 in the Desert, A Photographic Journey. In 2018 he published a book, distributed by George F. Thompson Publishing, entitled Sin Sombras/Without Shadows, A Search for the Meaning of Life, if There Is One, in Photographs and Stories, inspired by the southern California desert. In 2019, he gave an invited presentation at the program sponsored by the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia in Atlanta entitled, Artist’s Talks at Atlanta Celebrates Photography Photobook Fair. He is currently searching for a publisher for his second book, completed in draft form, tentatively entitled, Some Where No Where There, In Between, based on photographs and text inspired by the region of the Lower Mississippi River Valley between Cairo, Illinois and New Orleans. He is also near completion on a third project, When the Wet Dog Shakes, A Book of Answers about Why S _ _ _ _ (Stuff) Happens, which uses a fictional allegory and principles derived from science, psychology, history, and philosophy to explore the pervasiveness of chaos in our lives and how to deal with it.  

The artist is married to his wife, Kathleen, a professional watercolor painter. They have opened a gallery in New Orleans, Gallery Huracan, named after the Mayan god of chaos. They have one daughter, Dominique, who has an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of South Carolina and currently teaches at Southeastern Louisiana University.

Presentations

2019, October 5 – Sin Sombras/Without Shadows: A Search for the Meaning of Life, if There Is One, in the California Desert in Photographs and Stories. Artist’s Talks at Atlanta Celebrates Photography Photobook Fair. Sponsored by Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, Atlanta, GA.

Exhibitions

1992 Invited artist in group show at LeMieux Galleries, entitled “New Orleans Photographic Salon de Refuses” in New Orleans, Louisiana.

2014 – The Blue Library 2014 Competition, New Orleans, Louisiana, sponsored by PhotoNOLA. One of 30 finalists selected for printing. Submission entitled: Beneath a Cruel Sun: Highway 66 in the Desert. A Photographic Journey by James Barbee.

2015 – TPS 24: The International Competition. Image accepted for exhibition from June 1, 2015 to July 25, 2015 at the Wittliff Galleries in Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas.

2015 – Invited artist in group show at Christwood Atrium Gallery. “Stepping Away from the Blue Crescent.” May 9-June 27, 2015, Christwood Atrium Gallery, Covington, Louisiana.

2019 – Invited artist at Second Story Gallery in group show entitled “Momento Mori: An Exhibition on the Fragility of Human Life.” May 11-June 28, 2019, New Orleans, Louisiana.

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