Pam Moxley's unexpectedly gorgeous photograph "Gotham" captures Atlanta's proverbial ain't-it-grand skyline and serpentine highway. But countering the clichéd, coffee-table-book vision of the city with a vantage point slightly above the frenetic auto action, Moxley's image looks down on cascading foliage that threatens to spill over onto the highway like some devouring sci-fi menace.
Moxley has offered an iconically beautiful image that renders the peculiar exotica of the city, just as photographer Beth Lilly has taken the ordinary phenomenon of "Mountain" and, through her distorting plastic lens, made it into a toy-like model railroad range more grounded in dream or memory than reality.
There are many examples of such exceedingly charming fare in Toy Camera Photography, a large but cohesive exhibition united by the simple idea of a plastic lens. The cameras used by the photographers are characterized as "toys," all-plastic Hong Kong cheapos, such as the Holga and the Diana. These strictly amateur-hour devices force the professional voyeurs to really pay attention to composition and vantage when the usual technical tricks aren't available. The result is memorable works such as Trevor Green's shot of Oakland Cemetery viewed through a skeletal tree, a metaphor for death's ultimate unknowability.
There is a unique magic in the Holga, which imbues even the most pedestrian view with moody atmosphere, like the assorted touristy snapshots of Normandy or midcentury roadside American kitsch in Hank Margeson's delightful images of cavorting concrete dinosaurs. The rinky-dink nature of the Holga creates soupy shadows, graininess and a dark vignette around the perimeter of the image like one of the irises that highlight the action in an early silent film. The effect of that halo is often a shorthand for photographic point of view. It reminds us that rather than the journalistic or Godlike objectivity photography often suggests, there is a subject creating the images, such as Tami Stilton, whose quirky "Lanier Toes" pictures the photographer's own pedicured feet.
Something in the toy camera's limited format allows imaginations to go free range and reminds us why we love photography: because it reacquaints us with the ordinary wonders of the world.
Toy Camera Photography runs through Oct. 22 at Galerie MC, 845 Spring St. Wed.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. 404-876-1444. www.galeriemc.com.