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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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