It's a wash

It is 6 o'clock outside of the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center's artist studios and the sky has transformed, as if on cue, into a perfect Laura Noel tapestry. The sunset, a lurid Barbie Dream House pink, works in garish harmony with the indigo metallic gleam of the city's skyscrapers.

Photographer Noel has always delighted in capturing the flashy and color-drenched, but empty and soul-less, character of modern life. Her photographs of highway billboards, office towers, suburban sprawl and people adrift in these sterile landscapes has made her one of the most spot-on record-keepers of this ersatz, overbuilt mess we call Atlanta. "To me, they're usually about loss and an emptiness and a loneliness," says Noel, a remarkably centered woman with the air of someone incapable of being flustered.

Her photographs can be creepily accurate in how they encapsulate a world pared down to what she calls "epic details," like the little scrap of pornography caught in a bush that says something about the degraded, anonymous character of the world we live in. "I'm interested in finding an unlikely beauty in the urban or suburban world," says Noel.

In Galerie MC's extra-ordinary exhibtion, which also features Corinne Adams' botanical photographs, Noel takes a turn toward abstraction. The photographer has focused her lens on a more specific project: a variety of car washes from Canton to Buckhead. The car wash images are almost erotic in their tactile qualities: the humid, dripping condensation-fogged windows and plumes of spraying soap float like ejaculate through the air. The work marks a momentary turn away from the more cynical vantage of Noel's modern landscapes.

Since studying photography at Duke, Noel has ambled back and forth between the worlds of fine art photography and her day job shooting for various newspapers. She says she first got wise to her unique aesthetic around 2001 when a local daily assigned her to the Gwinnett beat, where that suburb's rapid growth shaped her photographic vision. "If you go anywhere in America, it looks like a strip mall. I'm trying to find a way to live with the overwhelming Cobb Parkway-ization of America," says Noel, who then disappears into the pink-hued evening.

extra-ordinary runs through Feb. 4. Wed.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. Galerie MC, 845 Spring St., Loft C, at the corner of Sixth and Peachtree streets. 404-876-1444. www.galerieMC.com.

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