Inhuman touch

Joy Drury Cox’s photographs of domestic interiors specialize in an anti-decor, stripped free of personality or individuality. Like canned air freshener or deodorant, the neat-as-a-pin, color-coordinated bathrooms and monastic bedrooms that Cox photographs serve to deny the bodily functions and, by extension, the human lives that unfold in them.

It is hard to imagine anything like “relaxation” laying its fat haunches on Cox’s sofa or a hearty meal being enjoyed at the dining room table decorated with two brass candlesticks circled with fake flowers in “Mauve Dining Room Center Pieces.”

Cox’s coolly straight-ahead style recalls Diane Arbus’ unsettling portraiture, Stanley Kubrick’s intimidating empty spaces and a modern variant on Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” The look Cox captures is “American Banal,” a distinct aesthetic found in hotel decor, waiting rooms and other public settings in which neatness and neutrality are prized.

A recurring feature of Cox’s photographs, which are on view at Saltworks Gallery, are elements of the outdoors brought indoors: dried flowers, floral placemats, silk flowers, baskets made of straw, fake birds decorating grapevine wreaths. But that insertion of the natural into the scenes only underscores the perversity of suggesting that nature, in all its uncontrollable flux, could exist in this sterile vacuum.

Cox’s interior spaces are paired, in appropriate symmetry, with Kim Hoeckele’s similarly appraising views of strip malls and parking lots. The twinned photographers thus create a unified vision that ends up being very much about absence: especially the eerie absence of people in places that are, ironically, created by and for them. Both photographers take a long, troubling look at a world of our own making that proves an inhospitable dwelling place for our desires.

Photographs by Joy Drury Cox and Kim Hoeckele are on exhibit through Nov. 22 at Saltworks Gallery, 635 Angier Ave. Tues.-Sat. noon-5 p.m. 404-876-8000.