'Keep his spirit alive': James Patterson Retrospective Exhibition to celebrate beloved photographer

·4 min read

Friends and colleagues of the late Jackson artist James C. Patterson will gather Thursday at the Mississippi Museum of Art to celebrate his work, enjoy live music and bid on 25 of his iconic photographs.

The retrospective exhibit is set for 7-11 p.m. with live music provided by Bark, the Eric Stracener Trio, and Rhonda Richmond. A cash bar and light refreshments will be available with the silent auction set to close at 10:30 p.m.

Spearheading the event will be the non-profit James Patterson Memorial Foundation.

Katrina Hercules, who grew up in Jackson and is now a graduate student at UCLA, said the aim of the group will be to both preserve Patterson’s work and support up-and-coming photographers — just as he did.

Jackson Photographer, the late-James Patterson will have an exhibit, auction at the Jackson Museum of Art on Thursday.
Jackson Photographer, the late-James Patterson will have an exhibit, auction at the Jackson Museum of Art on Thursday.

“My family and I were really close to James from the time we first moved to Jackson, so we want to try and keep his spirit alive,” she said. “He was such a good advocate for the community.”

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Patterson became interested in cameras as a child after seeing photos taken by his grandparents. He took photography classes at the University of Southern Mississippi and eventually became the owner and curator of Gallery 119 downtown.

His photos appeared in publications including Time, Better Homes and Gardens, Billboard, The New York Times, Washington Post and Clarion Ledger to name a few.

Donald Sutherland, Morgan Freeman, Bobby Rush, Archie Manning, Johnnie Taylor, Beth Henley and Willie Morris are just a few of the celebrities captured by his lens.

He also worked with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and Diogenes Editions in 1992 to archivally print 18 of author Eudora Welty's little-seen depression-era photographs.

The 18 original negatives were chosen by Welty herself along with Patterson and Diogenes owner D. Gorton, with the work carried out at Gorton’s former studio in Belhaven.

“James was a brilliant printer of black and white images, particularly involving the painstaking archival process we used in the Welty portfolio,” Gorton stated.

Patterson later served as editor for two of watercolor artist Wyatt Waters' acclaimed books and in 2002 agreed to step in as editor of “Planet Weekly,” quickly transforming the small newspaper into a leading voice for Jackson’s arts community.

Jackson native John Hicks remembers a chance encounter with Patterson outside the old Planet office on Duling Ave.

“What are you doing?” asked Patterson.

“Just going for coffee,” said Hicks (later admitting he was between jobs and down on his luck).

“Well, why don’t you come write for the paper?” asked Patterson.

“In a split second, he turned my life around,” said Hicks. “And he did that for a lot of us — that’s why people loved him so much.”

Patterson’s widow, Jane Tucker, of Jackson agrees.

“There are people everywhere with these stories,” she said. “James always made himself available. He was the type of person who would be out there helping people without anybody even knowing about it.”

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In 2008 Patterson teamed up with fellow photographer Ron Blaylock to open a new studio on North State St. in Fondren.

It quickly became a center of activity, where musicians like Johnny Bertram, Lizzie Wright, The Bachelorettes, The Spaghettios, and Taylor Hildebrand would keep the party going well into the night.

He also served as an organizer and promoter for performances at Duling Hall, where he engaged dozens of local musicians. Many of the same musicians and friends came together for a celebration of Patterson’s life there in August 2018.

Patterson died the following October and was awarded posthumously with the Mississippi Governor’s Arts Award for Excellence in Photography and Community Support in 2019.

Tickets for Thursday's event are $15 in advance from jamespattersonfoundation.com or may be purchased for $20 at door.

If you go:

Event: James Patterson Retrospective Exhibition

Location/Time: Mississippi Museum of Art, Thursday, June 30, 2022, 7-11 p.m.

Silent Auction: 7-10:30 p.m. featuring 25 of James Patterson’s original works

Live music by: Bark, Eric Stracener Trio, Rhonda Richmond

Refreshments: Cash bar and light snacks

Tickets: $15 advance from jamespattersonfoundation.com; $20 at door.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Jackson photographer James Patterson remembered as an inspiration