CONNOLLY HAS BEEN A PILLAR OF THE WASHINGTON, D.C. music scene for over a decade. She isn't in a band; the only instrument she plays is the harp, and that's hardly going to get her into a hardcore group. But with her photography, letterpress printing, and avid research, she has celebrated the independent music scene in our nation's capital in works ranging from Banned in D.C., a book about the early hardcore days, to a series of postcards featuring musicians and their cars. From early '80s hardcore classicists Minor Threat and Bad Brains to current trend-shakers Fugazi and the Make Up, she has documented the changing face of punk in one of its most vibrant and well-known locales.

Music scenes have always fascinated Connolly, who, beginning May 8, presents a collection of her photographic work at Milky World Gallery. "I first started taking photos when I lived in L.A. I'd take pictures of the punks hanging out at Okie Dogs," she relates. "When I moved to D.C. in 1981, I was amazed at how small and close-knit the scene was. I borrowed someone's camera and a broken flash and got going." After a hiatus from photography in which she worked on her book, traveled to China, and began doing publicity and promotion for Dischord Records, Cynthia took up a camera again in the mid-'90s. "Speed Kills fanzine asked me to do a series of photographs of D.C. people with their cars. I had forgotten everything I knew about photography, so I had to totally re-educate myself. Art school had destroyed me--totally dried me up. I actually stopped doing art after I graduated."

Connolly's car series features members of the Nation of Ulysses, Bikini Kill, Slant 6, and many others arrayed before their autos, mopeds, and other conveyances. The black-and-white photos float among publicity stills and car culture come-ons, balancing the subject's charisma with the allure of their ride. "I asked the people I knew best first," she explains, "because they would be more patient with me. I had to do them over and over, to get how I thought the car should look. I still sometimes felt like I was invading their space."

Connolly's recent photos include large-scale landscapes and portraits of ice machines. The desert landscapes, particularly a road-lonely triptych, are dusty and desolate. "There are a lot of photos in the show from Arizona," she says. "I love the washed-out light there." Connolly says that simply "seeing stuff" gives her ideas, but she also looks to other photographers for inspiration. "Sally Mann's printing is immaculate. I wish I could print like her. But I also like people like Robert Frank who aren't immaculate. He just makes things look good and trashy."

Also included in the exhibit is her new postcard series, printed using "deckle" die-cuts that give the cards those old-fashioned ragged edges. "It took me forever to find a printer who could do that kind of edge. When I finally found one, the guy said, 'Nobody has used that in years!' 'So what,' I said. 'Just go get it out of the warehouse!' "Shot in color using a half-frame camera that takes two photos on one 35mm negative, the photo cards have super-saturated colors and unexpected combinations of images, both vivid and fragmented, like half-remembered dreams.

"The postcards have been a real undertaking," Connolly notes. "I wanted to make them so badly that I just figured out how I could make them. And then I remembered, 'Oh my God, I have to sell them!' " She's had no trouble with alt-press distributors, and zine vendors like Portland's Reading Frenzy and Olympia's Catch-of-the-Day mail-order catalog. "The reactions I get [from merchants] are really funny. Some people are like, 'Wow, that's really beautiful,' and others say, 'What is this? It's blurry.' Those are the kind of people that really need to relate to defined objects. I kind of wish I had taped their responses. They gave the weirdest excuses!" Connolly did, however, tape-record the sounds of the spaces where she took the photographs. These tapes will accompany the exhibit to create a soundscape for the photos. "It's not like you can tell specifically what is going on. It's really silent in the desert. Sometimes it doesn't sound like anything."

Cynthia Connolly's interests in music, image, and sound have created a novel hybrid of art-forms. Blending the "high art" of photography with the directness of commercial graphics, she has placed her work within the punk "do-it-yourself" aesthetic. But this might be the only punk show in town where you don't need to wear earplugs.