Laura Noel is a compleat photographer. She knows how to build a picture, but her keen eye for geometry and color only partly accounts for the pleasure and satisfaction her work begets. The other part is her perspective, which, as she puts it, “skews sideways.” Her work delights us with corner-of-the eye revelations and epiphanies, which change the way we consider our world.
Noel regularly transforms unremarkable details into objects worthy of our attention. In “Wedding Reception, Mobile” (at left), for instance, she focuses our attention on the leg of a blue metal table poking out from underneath a white and pink tablecloth. The composition is a subtle play of opposing diagonals stabilized by the foot of the table, which touches the center line, but that’s a dry explanation for the effect, which brings to mind a coy Victorian woman in blue stockings daintily revealing a bit of leg from underneath her petticoats.
Noel’s “Dry Cleaner” — one of the photographs in “Home,” a group show at Hagedorn Foundation Gallery through April 18 — seizes upon the one bright spot in an otherwise ugly environment. A pretty floral fabric hanging on a rod behind a dry cleaner is a pop of color against the white wall: a haphazard array of pipes, wires and ratty louvered door, which she manages to frame as a mini-Mondrian.
The Atlanta native thinks a lot about American values. Her photos often muse on individuality and how it survives in our increasingly generic environment, often by focusing on what she calls “accidental creativity.” “Big Chief” is an image of a brightly painted triangular building, a quirky bit of 1950s roadside architecture of the type Robert Venturi celebrated in the seminal book “Learning to Love Las Vegas.”
Noel’s cattywonkus perspective is more subtly manifested in “Deliver Me,“ her portrait series of smokers. She grew interested in this subculture, partly because the question of denying smokers use of public space might be seen as an individual-freedom issue, and because nearly one-fourth of Americans stick to this habit despite the fact that many of the other three-fourths revile it. (“Amy,” at left.) “People think it’s dirty and shows a lack of self-control,” Noel says, “and, of course, there’s the issue of second-hand smoke.”
She began the work with a political subtext, but it morphed into something quite different. Leaving the question of addiction aside, people smoke, she discovered, because it gives them a break in the day, and it is this meditative moment that she captures in many of these portraits.
Noel, who originally wanted to be a writer, goes in for oblique narratives as well. Her latest pictures are diptychs of seemingly unrelated images, such as “Falling/Fame” (above). She writes: “The line where the two images meet becomes the seam between fact and fiction, reality and longing, the universal and the personal.” In these images, she gives you leave to find your own epiphanies.
This is the last week to see “Home,” which includes the work of six other accomplished photographers: Stephanie Dowda (her “Passage” is at right), Judy Fiskin, Beth Lilly, Tobia Makover, Susan Harbage Page and Meryl Truett.
If you visit “Home,” you should check out Stephen Lawson’s painstakingly created meditations on space and time at Lumière, just down the block. Lawson will be present for an 11 a.m. screening of a film about him on the show’s closing day, April 23. (His “Tempus Fugit” is below.)