Some Where No Where There, In Between
The water strider is surely one of nature’s most gifted creatures, for it has mastered the art of walking on water. It does so by maintaining the careful balance made possible by carefully distributing its weight across its six legs. In this way, it dwells in the dream world In Between what is above the surface of the water and what lies below.
I have lived in the South for most of my life. It is a place which I treasure for the Beauty to be found in its landscape and people. Besides, where else can you say “y’all” without getting laughed at? On the other hand, there are aspects of living here that I find repugnant—the poverty, lack of education, but most of all, the legacy of slavery and racism that is still alive today. Choosing to live here often requires the grace and skill of the water strider, balancing an awareness of what I love about the South with what I do not. It is a balancing act that requires persistent effort and determination, whose outcome is never certain. I, too, like the water strider, live In Between. To be clear, I do not think that I am better than anyone else (we are all sinners here), nor do I believe the problems of the South are unique to this region. The flaws of the South are those of humanity, made vivid.
The images of the people and places seen in this body of work were taken in the region known as the Lower Mississippi River Valley between Cairo, Illinois and New Orleans. Residents simply refer to it as The Heartland—a place In Between the two coasts of the United States. Like much of the rural United States, if not the world, The Heartland is in the throes of a wrenching transition In Between the past and future. Due to mechanization, the farm jobs are disappearing and so the young people leave, seeking better prospects elsewhere. The folks left behind have become an invisible class in this nation made up of the retired, disabled, and working-class individuals who live here, like everywhere else, laboring in low-paying jobs, barely making ends meet. They live In Between paycheck to paycheck, doing the tedious, dirty jobs nobody else wants … waiting tables, driving trucks, hauling garbage. This is not a world for the meek, yet I have never heard one of them complain. I see great dignity in their stoicism.
My method in obtaining most of these images is to drive around the countryside in my old red Ford pickup (in this way, I blend in), poking around the small towns and back roads, looking for those fleeting moments when something extraordinary is revealed in the ordinary. The people seen in the work are “wild caught”—I am encountering them for the first time, just as you are now. The best images seem to come when I can get them to talk about themselves, telling me the story of their lives. For these few moments, we are somewhere In Between strangers and friends. After 20 years learning to draw and paint, I view what has been recorded by the camera as a starting point in achieving the inner vision that becomes a final print. As for the print, I remain of the opinion that “size matters” (thankfully, unlike other aspects of life!). Some are printed small, so that the viewer must lean in close to experience them, like a whispered secret. However, most are printed large, to enable the viewer to more fully enter the moment as I experienced it. These moments are my dreams—dreams of a lonely, haunting-haunted, fragile world that I am hoping to share with you. The more compelling my dreams, the more completely you may wish to enter them, even as they enter you, drawing you, like me, into the world of In Between.
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Jim’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 and medical/psychiatric training at the Tulane, Washington University in Saint Louis, and 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 at the University of Miami and has continued making photographs since that time, primarily working with a 4 x 5-inch view camera until he discovered the creative controls made possible by digital photography approximately 10 years ago. He has taken numerous courses in drawing and painting at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts for almost 20 years and continues to draw and paint. He credits this experience as a strong influence in his creative process in making photographs at this point in his career as an artist. While at the academy, he also took courses in the use of the digital photography programs, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.
In addition to appearing in shows, in 2014 he entered a chapbook into the Blue Library Competition, sponsored by PhotoNOLA, which was selected 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 working on a second book entitled, When the Wet Dog Shakes, the Photobook, based on photographs taken from the region of the Lower Mississippi River Valley as well as a companion manuscript for a book by the same title. Many of the images intended for the book appear in this show. Jim is married to his wife, Kathleen, a professional watercolor painter. They have one daughter, Dominique, who is herself a writer and teaches at Southeastern Louisiana University.
James (Jim) G. Barbee
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. Sonsored by Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgie, Atlanta, GA.
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.
Barbee, James. Sin Sombra/Without Shadows: A Search for the Meaning of Life, if There is One, in the California Desert in Photographs and Stories. George F Thompson Publishing, 2018.
Beneath a Cruel Sun: Highway 66 in the Desert. A Photographic Journey by James Barbee. Chapbook. 2014.
When the Wet Dog Shakes – A Book of What S____(Stuff) happens. (In Preparation)