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Peter Bahouth illuminates his picture show at Marcia Wood Gallery

Complete the following sentence: The resurgence of the Betty Page pin-up look a) killed feminism faster than Ally McBeal's gigantic eyes and tiny miniskirt, or b) salvaged feminism for a whole new generation that knows how to wield its sexuality like a blowtorch.

Peter Bahouth's Sadie's Choice at Marcia Wood Gallery suggests that the b's have it. Bahouth's latest solo outing comprises a dozen small stereoscopic slide images of mostly young, mostly white female sexuality rendered both available and unobtainable in a single stroke. The images are contained in spindly and slightly anachronistic viewing stands arranged along the gallery walls – think View-Master for grown-ups.

In "Yellow," a young model lies back across a sofa, legs over head, eyes downcast. Her hand drapes lightly over a cello. It's just short of lurid, but unmistakably erotic. "Suds'" model sits in a tub, almost fully engulfed in foamy white bubbles. We mostly see the top of her dyed red hair as her body slips beneath the water's surface in both an invitation and a refusal to be seen. Visual puns abound in the exhibit: Slices of cherry pie, cupcakes and erect microphones all make winking appearances in the artist's self-contained, sex-soaked world.

Bahouth calls the works "collaborations" with his models. Indeed, the title refers to Sadie Hawkins Day, when women are expected to take the lead in courting and dating, reversing the traditional gender dynamic. But whatever control his models may have exercised on the margins, it's clear that Bahouth has set the overall agenda.

Fortunately, he understands his format. The use of small-scale 3-D photography in a viewfinder for, essentially, dirty pictures, stretches back to photography's early days. It's an ideal method for an especially intense and private mode of looking.

Bahouth respects idiosyncratic details – a stack of tattered books, a full martini glass – and can render rich surfaces almost touchable, making an intense gaze worth the effort. Each jewel-like photograph offers a tiny burst of retinal pleasure. Objects invariably shine, glitter or glow warmly. The details of hair, foliage and fabric stand out with a crispness and contrast that has all but vanished from most contemporary portraiture.

In this photographiest of seasons, Atlanta offers more than enough large-scale photographs to go around. The works in Sadie's Choice provide a welcome contrast, looming as large in the mind's eye as they are small in the gallery.

 



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