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Capturing Beauty: The Photography of Joe Barr

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless

Like so many things in nature, I’ve often just given flowers a passing glance, enjoying their beauty but not stopping long enough to look more closely. Photographer Joe Barr is the antithesis, capturing the intricacy of flowers and other plants with an exquisite eye for detail.

Joe Barr
Raised in a small town in Ohio, Barr first became interested in photography around age twelve, when his family moved into a home with a small darkroom down in the basement. Though he says that he “discovered a new world of wonder” through this new hobby, it stayed just that--a hobby. As an adult, Barr went on to earn an engineering degree from a Big Ten university, working for an international corporation after graduation. Not finding this work terribly challenging, he delved into sales and marketing, a field that Barr says gave him an “opportunity to meet and learn from a world of bright and interesting people.” When health issues led to retirement on disability, Barr returned to his childhood enjoyment of being behind the lens of a camera. “My coordination is mildly impaired. In my case, it presents mainly in my speech and walk. The effects are controllable to a degree. They become most obvious when my concentration and energy level waver. My speech becomes notably thicker, and Ginger would no longer mistake me for Fred”, Barr quips. But, “the lack of an occupation has allowed me to reinvigorate an old, old hobby. A recent first step into the world of digital photography with its inherent rapid feedback has helped me sharpen some rusty skills.”

"Blue Iris"
© Copyright Joe Barr
Seeing Barr’s striking work firsthand, one might describe it as anything but “rusty”. Now living in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Barr does photograph other subjects besides flora. He has a section on his website entitled “Faces”, with candid shots of people he knows and runs in to around town, and also photographs landscapes and other images as he runs across them. For me though, it‘s his flower photographs that I’m captivated by the most. They offer a birds’ eye (or perhaps bees’ eye) view that we’d normally not be privy to. Maybe it’s Barr’s engineering background showing through, but the graceful curves of leaves or petals, the diminutive architecture of stems and filaments--each one is immortalized beautifully and clearly on film.

"Veteran's Poppy"
© Copyright Joe Barr
Barr also writes, and has furthered his visual study of flowers by partnering with a fellow writer, Suzanne Simonovich. Born and raised in Chicago but now a longtime Kenosha resident too, Simonovich is “The Voice of the Flowers” on Barr’s site, adding poetic captions to the photos that Barr posts. Describing her process, she says, “I look at the flower carefully, sensitive to the texture, color and light that is each flower; I close my eyes, at times I whisper a prayer, and then amazing things happen. Words become more than a phrase or a sentence; they are the actual message portrayed, as each flower takes on their own personality.”

Suzanne Simonovich
Barr has won numerous awards for his work in art shows, and it is displayed in galleries throughout Wisconsin. He sells prints, as well as several series of notecards featuring his photographs.

© Copyright Joe Barr
“I can’t paint. I can’t sculpt. I sure can’t sing, and I am retired from dancing. I am unable to create beauty, but from time to time I am able to capture some of the beauty around us. I think it satisfies some frustrated creative instinct. I enjoy the process”, says Barr. Luckily, for those of us who experience Barr’s photography, we get to enjoy the process too, through the viewpoint of his lens. To see more of his work and to read Simonovich’s imaginative captions, visit http://joebarrphotographer.com/.