Review - John Petro Photos at Horowitz Center Art Dept. Gallery

February 05, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Review of 'Signals in the Noise' a photography exhibit by John Petros open from Jan 24 - Mar 17, 2014, at the Howard County Community College Art Department Gallery in Columbia, MD. Link to the show announcement

John Petro's work can be seen on line at


Photography is, like other arts, a structure of imagination and talent wrapped in a supporting cocoon of skill. Unfortunately, many people can learn the skills and may even believe they are some kind of an artist while creating technically proficient but empty work. Just as in any other art, talent is rare on the ground.

I am not an 'art critic' but I am a fairly experienced photographer and have gotten over the years a good sense of what about an image keeps me from really enjoying it. And that is how I approach these reviews, I look at all the characteristics of the shows and the images that affect how I see them.  (For a little more on this topic, read this.)

I have the worst combination of of all personal traits; I am critical, opinionated and outspoken. That may explain why I hesitate to go to shows of people I know or like for fear it will be bad and I will have to restrain myself from saying what I actually think. I know the artist, John Petro slightly, I see him every couple of months or so at an organization of which we both are members. When he sent a broadcast announcement, I was lured into going by the promise of cookies.

All that being said, what a joy and a good experience it was to see this show. The show is hung in a lovely gallery, a few steps off the main floor of the Horowitz Center at Howard Community College. The photos are well-lit and nicely displayed.

The advantage of a show where you see many works, in this case about 25, of a single artist is that the viewer gets a real insight into the artist's style, his/her mode of seeing the world and how this is translated into the photographic vision.

There is a relatively wide diversity of subject matter but each of the pictures exhibit a high level of technical skills and execution but more important the technical points are there only to support a very clear vision of the subject matter. John has a magnificent eye for composition and a calm, clean style of capturing the shot. Each of his images is framed perfectly with the viewers' eyes being drawn ineluctably to what the artist wants you to see. Is the show perfect, no, but a bit about that later.

'Happy Couple' by John Petro, Annecy , France'Happy Couple' by John Petro, Annecy , FranceA review of the show in which this image was presented is here Amongst the many excellent images, there are three  that are my favorites. This shot, on the right, made in France marries the beautiful clear colors with a little surprise that elevates the picture above the usual. We would be happy just seeing the exquisitely rendered colors and their clear reflections but then we see, in the center, two chairs in an alcove set in front of two faces drawn on the wall, and instantly the viewer understands what the photographer has seen and what drew him to this exact point.

"Discussion" by John Petro, Geneva, Switzerland"Discussion" by John Petro, Geneva, SwitzerlandA review of the show in which this image is displayed is here. The second picture, also taken in Europe, has the same little fillip that makes what would be an attractive, but ordinary, technical shot into something much more. John has captured the front of a fairly old building in a slightly sepia-tinted picture with two windows placed at the thirds, the 'strong' points of a composition but in the lower left corner he has captured a woman talking intently to two little boys. Thus the viewers' eyes go back and forth from the interesting building front to the trio caught in conversation – a little trick played upon and appreciated by the viewer.

And the last of my favorites is 'Carhenge', taken at the end of the day, this improbable sculpture of cars erected and then painted to resemble stone. The contrast between the man-made objects made to look like natural materials but with the characteristic ungainly un-naturalness of human construction contrasts well with the lovely saturated delicacy of the fields and grasses around them. "Carhenge" by John Petro, Alliance, Nebraska"Carhenge" by John Petro, Alliance, NebraskaA review of the show in which this image was presented is here

And herein lies my small dissatisfaction with the show. There are several pictures, including those three, that deserve to be seen large, to be singled out as being more important than the rest by the nature of their size, and yet they are the same size as all the others. There are a few other pictures that are 'smaller' in impact and, in my opinion, quality relative to the rest of the show, yet everything is presented at the same size with no indication of any decision on the artist's part on which ones should be looked at the most and which ones relegated to a quick glance and an appreciative murmur.

Perhaps that was a decision on the artist's part to present these all at the same size to let the viewer make up their mind about importance but, for my part, I would happily have seen half of the show much, much larger, to get the visual impact of the really, really very good pictures and let the others be seen at the existing smaller size.

Did that uniformity spoil the show? Absolutely not. It is a startlingly good show, as well conceived and executed and as satisfying an exhibit as I've seen in this area and is well worth stopping by.

The gallery is open from 10-9 every day and there is ample covered parking immediately adjacent.



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