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Faculty Profile: Feeling All the Bumps


James Posey, III, MD

Jefferson Oncologist Looks at the World from Behind a Camera

James Posey, III, MD

Sometimes James Posey, III, MD, will be biking along the Schuylkill River Trail when the scent of flowers, carried on a breeze, will catch his attention. He’ll stop, scan the sides of the trail, and maybe follow his nose to take a closer look at the source of the fragrance. At other times the way light plays on water might be what turns his head, or how clouds and sky are reflected in the glass of a big building. Usually he has his camera. He’ll patiently explore through  the lens whatever has caught his eye, from several angles—carefully framing the colors, the textures, the shapes and edges. He might even take a picture.

The images he clicks, mostly landscapes, “tell a story,” he says. They “say something meaningful,” even if he can’t quite recount the tale or put the meaning into words. “I don’t look for anything in particular. A lot of times I’ll stop, and I’ll look just to see if there’s something that stands out to me. I might not take any pictures, or I might look and think that I want to come back at a time when light is hitting a structure in a different way.” 

Posey is director of Jefferson’s Gastrointestinal Oncology Program. His days are divided between caring for cancer patients, conducting studies to advance cancer treatments, and doing the paperwork and team building that come with leading an academic and clinical program. 

Photography offers respite from the daily pressures and frustrations of the job, but it also develops his clinician’s “eye,” which to him is more than the organ of vision. “You have to listen to people,” he says. “You have to be able to feel them, both emotionally and with touch. You have to be able to see what’s going on. All the senses are relevant in clinical practice.” The creative eye of picture-taking is also the eye of patient awareness, an openness—without preconceptions—to whatever presents itself to be seen. 

Photography piqued Posey’s interest when he first picked up a camera in high school. It was the mechanics of the instrument that initially drew him, the heft of it in his hand and the neat click of loading film. He spent hours in a camera shop handling and learning about the equipment. As his appreciation grew for how cameras worked and how they could “capture the world,” he began taking photographs.

These days, “I carry cameras with me a lot,” Posey says, “so I may take pictures randomly, if I’m going someplace. But I go on these major photo shoots maybe twice a month. Being on a bike allows me to stop when I see something and spend a little more time observing than if I were in a car. It’s more real and intense. You see different things on a bike,  and you feel all the bumps.” 

For Posey, photography is more than a hobby: It’s a practice of sorts. Or maybe it’s a meandering journey. And the point of the outing doesn’t seem to be its destination. Sometimes a trip results in the creative capture of an image in pixels just as a painter might compose a portrait on canvas. More often, the photo excursion is a release into  the senses. He enjoys the shifting sights, the feel of the wind and the cadence of pedaling, the sound of tires on gravel, the smell of cut grass, and the liberty of having his thoughts to himself. Or perhaps it’s the absence of thought. 

“A lot of times, when you see something, it goes a little deeper than the eye,” he muses, trying to convey in words the beauty that others are too busy to notice. There was that line of ants carrying a dead butterfly, and those pink flowers, and that church on Broad Street illuminated by a shaft of light from the setting sun, shining between two buildings a block away. Posey sees it, admires it, and captures it before it slips away for good. He shares his favorite scenes with family members and technical details with his son, who shares his passion for visual art. Most of the pictures end up in a computer archive.

“I still haven’t gotten around to shooting those smokestacks,” he says. “I saw another angle that I think is compelling.” Maybe one day he’ll end up there on his bike and snap a photo, preserving something others don’t see.

By Peter Nichols

James Posey, III, MD