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Photography books - expert to novice

Irving Penn's work, writes John Szarkowski in his introduction to Irving Penn (Little, Brown/A New York Graphic Society book: $60), ''is Spartan in its rigor, in its devotion to the sober elegance of clarity.'' It does not matter if Penn chooses to photograph high fashion or a warrior from the Cameroon or a Lavender Glory poppy or a cigarette butt, his images are simply extraordinary in their uncluttered precision. Whether working in black and white or color, the tonal range of Penn's photographs is striking; this is certainly the best monograph of the year. And no one writes better about photography than John Szarkowski, director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art. A powerful collection of images by a great artist.

Are you tired of plain old photography? That's what Catharine Reeve and Marilyn Sward, authors of The New Photography (Prentice-Hall/A Spectrum book: $ 15.95 paper), would like to know. By new photography, they mean such processes as carbon printing, palladium printing, cyanotyping, Kwik-prints; and they also want to teach you about handmade paper. Reeve and Sward provide information about how to make images in these alternative processes, taking readers from darkroom to finished print. There is a glossary, and an appendix which lists 80 sources of supplies for the new photography. A good introduction to alternative imagemaking for the curious amateur photographer.

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Phenakistiscope, Schadograph, Vandyke process, Gyula Jalasz, Diazo process, flow photography, isochromatic, Charles Marville - these are only a few of the hundreds of names, processes, techniques, and other things of photographic concern covered in the International Center of Photography Encyclopedia of Photography (Crown/A Pound Press Book: $50). Edited by William L. Broecker, and contributed to by many, many experts, this is the best single-volume reference work on photography available. The commercial, biographical, historical, technical, and conceptual are covered; the illustrations are in black and white and color. One could hardly ask for more in 607 well-made pages.

There are many, many books for the photographic beginner, and one of the best is John Hedgecoe's recently revised and updated The Book of Photography (Alfred A. Knopf, $12.95 paper). It begins with a very brief history of photography and proceeds to enlighten the aspiring photographer about the basic workings of cameras, composition, portraits, still lifes, landscapes, special techniques, developing and printing in black and white and color, choosing equipment, and a good deal more. These matters are treated with a depth sufficient for a book of this sort and length (256 pages), and Hedgecoe's prose is quite readable.

Those who find this volume congenial may go on to the many other Hedgecoe books on photography.

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