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A humbler Charlotte lives on in photo exhibit

It's the simplest of acts - looking. We do it many times every day, cruising around with eyes wide open. There's a difference, however, between looking and seeing.

That's the gift given photographer Steve Perille. He not only looks at the world, he sees - really sees. And when something grabs him, he releases the camera shutter and captures people living life one slice at a time.

The results are at the Light Factory Gallery in Spirit Square uptown. The 68 extraordinary black-and-white photographs in "Steve Perille: UN-FILTERED" will make you smile, think and feel.

They were shot mostly in Charlotte in the early to mid-1970s. Perille was an award-winning shooter for the Observer from 1972 to 1983. On assignment or just walking around, he carried a 35-mm Leica, exercising his hungry eye and a pure spirit.

Perille's work evokes Charlotte before the transforming economic boom of the 1980s and '90s. Uninterested in glitz, he was drawn to front porches, railroad tracks, beauty parlors, gas stations and corner stores.

Most of all, he focused on people maneuvering through the rugged beauty of the everyday - hugging a lover, getting hair done, working a job, sagging under the weight of worries. As expected with photos from the '70s, there are cigarette butts, bell bottoms, beer cans and bouffants.

A bare-chested man holds the hand of a little girl in underpants and carries the limp body of a dog. His wary stare hints at some untold story. It's the same with the guy asleep (passed out?) in the back seat of a car, his feet jutting out the window.

A young couple embraces, she holding a half-eaten sandwich with a beer in her pocket, him holding a beer and cigarette. You sense their joy. Two kids look from the cab of a truck, one self-assured, the other pressing his lips and nose to the glass.

These are people on the margins, and they regard the photographer - if at all - as a benign presence. Such is Perille's skill and humanity that he makes them co-conspirators. This is particularly true of the children, who, without guile, obviously trust someone equally guileless.

Perille has an eye for juxtaposition. Near a picture of Jesus in a lighted store window is a sign: "Sorry We're Closed." A woman with sprayed and upswept hair sits in a car beneath an advertisement reading "special lube & oil changes" except the s in "special" is missing.

In a wonderful photo, a blind man walks the North Tryon Street of 35 years ago, holding a cane and a cup for alms. Near him, a kid washes a store window, water spilling on the sidewalk. The composition is brilliant - the two figures, the ghostly skyscraper in the background, the reflections in the storefront.

As with all these photos, the content pulls at us. Who was in and who was out in this burgeoning metropolis? And how do we see? Are we blind, lost in daily tasks, or only confronting the reflection of an after-image?

You care about the people depicted. I'm wondering if the girl with the sandwich still loves the guy with the beer and ponytail.

Thanks must go to Byron Baldwin, who has done so much for photography in Charlotte as a photographer, teacher and organizer. He curated this show, putting before us the work of a photographer he has long admired.

With their luscious velvety tones, these photos are simple and direct. I, likewise, will be simple and direct.

This is a great show.

Don't miss it.

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