J. John Priola

Natural Light/Symbiosis 

Natural Light/Symbiosis features work made in 2022 from natural occurrences and natural disasters, and it coincides with the release of Priola’s new monograph, Natural Light, published by Kehrer Verlag.

In the exhibition, Priola continues his love of beauty and the act of seeing/looking into the natural world through innate happenings or natural disasters. This new work is about renewal, existence, and perseverance in the ever-growing human effect on nature. In a small yet revealing way, the aftermath of two devastating California wildfires is one source. In Trunks, images from the Dixie Fire in 2021 reveal detailed and haunting beauty from the wreckage and debris, while an image from the 2018 Camp Fire speaks to recovery and survival in the age of the Anthropocene. Mistletoe is found in the US, Canada, Mexico, and some parts of Europe, yet Windsor and Sebastopol, California are locations for Priola. Even though the geographic locations cover a small region, they have broad implications.

The debate around whether forms of lichen harm, or even kill, the trees they find as hosts and grow on is inspiring for Priola. Is lichen stealing the nutrients, weighing down the branches, and blocking the light essential to the life of the host plant? Mistletoe is an evergreen shrub that is semi-parasitic on other plants. Instead of producing roots in the ground, it sends out root-like structures into tree branches and steals water and nutrients. 

Priola observes these natural, lovely, and sometimes creepy ways and records what he sees in photographs. Priola says, “the images of trees draw the viewer in with their familiarity and structural beauty but if the undertow takes hold, meaning is delivered.” Perception is poignant, evoking the mysterious nature of these observations. Photography is magic, deceptively acting as a document that is also personal, political, and intangible.

The meaning of “Natural Light” in the exhibition title is twofold. It referrs to natural light as an essential element to life and growth and to the natural light in which Priola has photographed these images. There is a precision in using natural light, in finding the fleeting and shifting moments that grant the richness and vulnerability of his subjects.

Priola’s monograph, Natural Light, investigates the natural and un-natural world and features images from twelve different series made over twenty years’ time. There is a beauty and perversity at work in this collection of images. Plants carry stories and offer information about their caretakers, perseverance, and what nature and nurture hold. The images are often portraits and evidence of what was and can no longer be seen. 

While there are different formal approaches to image making, the aspirations remain the same. Following the title “Natural Light,” all images--even seemly studio set ups--are taken with natural light. Shifts in scale and layout show the diverse ways to look at our world and how we live in it.

Natural Light was designed by Bob Aufuldish of Aufuldish & Warinner and published by Kehrer Verlag. It includes texts by Rita Bullwinkel and Claire Daigle and an interview by Alec Soth. Hardcover, approximately 9 x 11 in., 144 pages with 92 color and b/w plates.

Please join us for a reception and book signing with the artist on Saturday, January 7 from 4-6pm in our downstairs gallery at Minnesota Street Project. 

Works in the Exhibition