SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, NOVEMBER 24th, 2011, by Kimberly Chun, special to the Chronicle



Kenneth Baker

J. John Priola shows a new series of black-and-white pictures at Gallery Paule Anglim that continue his survey of undernoticed details of domestic architecture.

This time he has turned his attention to vent grates in house foundations and the "weep holes" in retaining walls that permit drainage. As in "Hillhurst Avenue" (2007), he offers these tiny architectural epiphanies, in a plainspoken manner, in big prints with wall, aperture, sidewalk and perhaps a fringe of vegetation forming a nearly depthless, nearly abstract pattern.A series of postcard-size prints examines single weeds obtruding, one or two at a time, between wall and sidewalk.

Priola poises these images on the border between documentary and conceptual art. They seem to equate the insufficient attention people give to details of the world and the insufficient attention they give to photographs. Such an equation would risk insulting the viewer, did Priola not effect it so discreetly that it too may pass unnoticed. Priola also quietly revives what Vancouver, British Columbia, photographer Roy Arden calls "the romance of the index" - the excitement of believing, in the Photoshop age, that the phenomenon before the lens left its own photo-chemical imprint.



UNION-TRIBUNE, APRIL 5, 2007, review by Robert L. Pincus

STRETCHER MAGAZINE, 2005, archive review by Prajakti Jayavanti


SATURDAY, MAY 31, 2003

"Outside the window, a watcher in the dark"
By Kenneth Baker

Does all photography have snooping as a subtext? All kinds of pictures support that idea, from images that capture things too fast, small or distant for the naked eye, to straightforward but stealthy ones such as J. John Priola’s series "Dwell" at Gallery Paule Anglim.

Each of Priola’s black and whites looks from deep blackness into the lighted window of someone’s residence. His titles identify locations but give no clue whether he collaborated with the people whose dwellings are captured. The faintly invasive feeling the pictures emanate suggest, correctly, that he did not.

The almost abstract formal elegance of Priola’s pictures offsets their creepy air of belonging to a stalker’s album. Yet their formality also reminds us of the time they involved and Priola’s risk of discovery in setting up his 4-by-5 camera.

"Dolores Street, Ground Floor South" (2001) reveals almost nothing of the domestic interior beyond. The nearly opaque curtain flattens the arched window into a tombstone shape. A hazy shadow pattern makes it hard to tell whether the view looks from outer blackness into a lighted window or out from a dark room at muffled light.

Priola’s pictures make a fascinating counterpoint to the "Summer Night" of Robert Adams at the Fraenkel Galley across the street.





J. John Priola’s exquisite black-and-white prints at Fay Gold (April 9-May 15) comprise a show of extensive quality. Priola’s work typifies the best aspects of fine black-and-white printing: the velvety smooth tones of fiber paper, the crispness of a perfectly exposed large format negative. His show is split into two parts, numerous prints of isolated objects against pure black, and three delicate, white fields. The first section is more in keeping with Priola’s body of work, focusing on worn and broken yard-sale mementos, symbols of a warm and tattered past. Bunny is just one of the wonderful personal effects on view. The varmint, a cheap ceramic rabbit, has long ears bent behind its cute, furry little head. But with closer inspection one can see the ears have once been broken off and a bead of glue now forms a ring around their base. Would such an object even have been noticed on a propped up door outside a generic looking house in the suburbs? Could this now powerful symbol of repaired fecundity have somehow signaled its potential to a could-be buyer? Priola realizes the symbol value of the knick-knack and the individualistic and societal significance that such a representative object has.

But it’s the three almost-white images that steal the show. The large images show three time worn walls. A full-frame image of a wall with an ornate plaster trim cutting horizontally across the two subtle planes compliments its adjacent image of peeling white paint. A third print of just a crack running down another aged wall completes the milky triptych, adding a more spiritual detail to his work and endowing the viewer with a benevolence for all things crumbling under the weight of time.
-Jason Forrest, Atlanta



THURSDAY, MAY 26, 1994

By Susan Kandel
Special to the Times

New Meanings: In J. John Priola’s small, black-and-white photographs at Paul Kopeikin Gallery, such everyday objects as a wishbone, a pacifier and a jewel box. Are imbued with menace, absurdity or melancholy. Some are spotlit as harshly as commercial products; others are silhouetted like antique portraits. All, however, are isolated within a darkened void,
disengaged from any narrative, until we begin fabricating narratives for them. It’s impossible not to.
If these objects are conceived as clues, the context is cinematic – all white lights and portentous swells of music. If these are mnemonic devices, it is therapeutic, as a photograph of a syringe would seem to insist. If these are pieces of evidence, the narrative context is juridical and matter-of-fact.

Indeed the only images that jar are those in which matter-of-fact-ness is eschewed for symbolism – such as an egg and an apple. These too easily devolve into hackneyed still-life studies, wherein classical beauty overwhelms the conceptual program.

The work as a whole is more ambitious. At the risk of staking a claim too grand for images so diminutive, one might argue that they function as allegories of the photographic project itself. Photography’s mandate is demonstrated as clearly as in any textbook.

Ordinary things are rendered extraordinary in and through the process of representation (cropping, framing, lighting, etc.). Meaning is conceived as an aftereffect, a residue of form.

In this case, form is so insistently sculptural it resonates with trickery. The objects seem to be winking at us. If trompe-l’oiel painting is uncanny by nature, these eccentric photographs redouble its effects. To become absorbed by their mundaneness is an unnerving experience.















The photographer as Stalker: J. John Priola’s "Dolores Street,
Ground Floor, South"