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Photography as a fine art

If certain kinds of painting has been maligned and sculpture misunderstood, then photography has had an even greater problem, for it has often been denied the status of art altogether. Even the recent photography boom hasn't entirely altered that situation, although it has convinced a few diehards that such masters of the camera as Stieglitz, Steichen, and Adams were really artists at heart. Henri Cartier-Bresson is another photographer who helped convince the art community and the public that photography could indeed be a fine art. During a long and varied career, he has produced consistently excellent photographic images distinguished for their superb black-and-white design, as well as for their insight, compassion, attention to detail, and gentle good humor.

A number of the best and best-known of these images have been assembled by the Laurence Miller Gallery here. Included are depictions of European cities and people, with particularly effective shots of Athens, Brussels, London, Seville, and Madrid, and extraordinarily moving studies of the individuals who live, work, and play in these and other cities.

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Of special interest are the portraits of Cardinal Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) and Henri Matisse; the superb study of old monks in ``Midnight Mass in Scanno''; the classic ``On the Banks of the Marne''; and the most stunning landscape of all, ``Brie, France.''

At the Laurence Miller Gallery, 38 East 57th Street, through March 2.

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