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.



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.


I spent the first months of my life steps away from where William Faulkner lived in New Orleans, in the streets behind the Saint Louis Cathedral. Although I was born in the city, my first memories are in the small southern town of Columbia, Mississippi, where my family moved when I was three years old. The world I grew up in is perhaps best captured in the book/movie To Kill a Mockingbird, which revealed this world both in its great nobility and, at times, ugliness. I was in the eleventh grade when my school was integrated – think federal marshals with rifles, endless bomb threats/evacuations, and rumors of cross burnings.

A key event in my life there occurred in the early morning hours, between midnight and dawn on August 18, 1969, when the small, but very powerful, hurricane known as Camille went over our little town. I awoke to a changed world, rather like Dorothy opening the door to some nightmarish version of Oz. The storm set in motion a series of events that ultimately led to my family’s departure from Columbia. I believe that even now after all these years have passed, my struggle to make some sense of these events is still a strong source of my creative drive.

I went on to attend the University of Miami (Florida), where I hoped to follow the footsteps of Jacques Cousteau, the famous Frenchman who invented a way to breathe underwater, and parlayed the proceeds of his invention to buy a ship and roam the world, while making documentaries. Alas, there was only one Jacques Cousteau, as I soon discovered, and in the course of my studies I became fascinated by the mind-brain duality. I chose to attend medical school, hoping to become a psychiatrist - - which I did. I finished medical school at Tulane and residency training at Washington University in Saint Louis (internship) and the University of California, San Diego. I eventually returned to New Orleans after completing my training, where I joined the faculty of the LSU School of Medicine for 27 years. I subsequently entered private practice in New Orleans, where I am now.

"The Boatman" James Barbee    

So where does photography fit into this picture? The spark for my interest in photography was an introductory course that I took at the University of Miami in my last year there. I learned how to do the technical stuff, exposing film and developing/printing it in the dark room. However, a far more important lesson was that for the first time pictures became something more than documentation of news-worthy events or one’s family, but a form of artistic expression. I continued to take photographs with a 35mm Pentax through medical school, and while in California, began using a 4”x5” view camera. I developed hundreds, if not thousands, of large format negatives, and became an expert at light-proofing the small bathrooms in little motels throughout the west so that I could load film holders at night and photograph by day. However, by about the age of 35, I became frustrated with the lack of creative control that was possible with film-based photography. The big cameras and all the equipment then sat up on the shelves for almost 15 years, during which time, I took night-time drawing and oil painting classes at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts almost continuously. One of the most important lessons there came early-on from the teacher, Kathleen Trapolin, who was to become my wife. She had us reproduce a drawing that was upside down based on an exercise in the book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. I quickly realized copying the upside down version of the original was superior to anything I could produce by copying the drawing right side up. This simple exercise helped me reach a new level of understanding, seeing the content of any image as an abstract arrangement of graphic elements within a border, stripped of the meaning associated with any of the objects depicted in the image.

At some point, I began using a small digital camera, taking photographs to create paintings in the studio. It began to dawn on me that through this new technology of the digital camera, the world had changed. I took a course in the use of Lightroom, taught by Will Crocker at the Academy (who generously continued to tutor me after the course), and then a second course, also at the Academy (taught by Anne Jennings) on Photoshop.

Perhaps my best “classroom” has been the experience of looking at thousands and thousands of photographs over the years. I attended every museum show and gallery that I could, trying to see the original prints made by everyone from Arbus to Winograd (I can’t truthfully say I looked at any photographer’s name who began with a “Z” ). The great work of these photographers has definitely inspired me to a better, richer understanding of the world and the possibilities inherent in this medium. I can only hope to bear witness to the strangeness of this world and document my experience in some small way.