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Steven Brown: The people next door

Harmonic Drift portrays the young and artistic

Photographer Steven Brown has created a compelling portraiture of neohippies and bicycle messengers, ecstatic musicians and the exuberantly tattooed and thrift-store outfitted. Some might call it a subculture, but Brown just calls them friends, roommates, relatives. The Atlanta College of Art graduate based some of his early student work on a fascinating taxonomy of his male peer group. In those portraits he saw a rarely tapped strain of vulnerability and sweetness in boys slouching toward adulthood.

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His solo exhibition at Beep Beep Gallery, Harmonic Drift, suggests time's passage and the boys who mirrored a young artist's identity giving way to coupledom and a more defiant, willful strain in his subjects. The "drift" implies the free-form nature of being young and artistic. In that freedom, Brown finds something like music – sensual and satisfying.

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The photographs range from straight-on, confrontational portraiture – of Brown's slacker subjects staring down the camera's bossy leer – to more off-the-cuff, improvisational-feeling images such as Zoroaster band member "Brent," eyes closed, backed by a wall of amps, his hand resting on a guitar in midstroke.

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But the best, flintiest work in the show is Brown's portraits of artsy couples. They pose like land barons in 17th-century oil paintings amid their domestic splendor, most cradling their cats, those surly, slinky, politically resonant signature pets of war protesters and free-trade coffee drinkers. You long for an entire series on these cool couples and their overfed, clearly beloved feline lords and masters.

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It is in these physically proximate couples that you get the full measure of Brown's subjects' individuality, but also a sense of what they represent of contemporary relationships. Take "Thomas and Lydia," for example. Outfitted in funky, thrift-store finds, a shelf of cameras visible behind them, they are emblematic of the esoteric world Brown documents. But they share something more ephemeral than lifestyle choices with the other couples. There is a steeliness about the women and a relatively softer aura to the men that suggests how the relationships between power and gender have shifted.

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Such details of environment and clothing and domestic space don't make Brown's subjects lovable exactly. Instead they are themselves: idiosyncratic totems of freedom and a different take on domesticity and beauty, meaning and pleasure.

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Harmonic Drift: Photography by Steven Brown. Through April 20. Fri.-Sun., noon-6 p.m. Beep Beep Gallery, 696 Charles Allen Drive. 404-429-3320. www.beepbeepgallery.com.



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