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A photographer's pick of world views. The imaging of life

A Day in the Life of the Soviet Union, New York: Collins Publishers. 240 pp. $39.95. This is No. 6 in a continuing series by Rick Smolan and David Cohen, with similar efforts already published on the United States, Australia, Canada, Hawaii, and Japan.

The project was sponsored by Eastman Kodak, Pan American, Nikon, Sony, and Intourist, which suggests its magnitude, not the results. This volume may prove to be the most valuable of any in this open-ended series.

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This book offers an unprecedented glimpse behind doors normally closed in that immense, totalitarian society. The producers acknowledge that glasnost had a lot to do with their gaining approval after three years of negotiations.

Nearly as impressive are the organizational skills required to coordinate 100 of the world's best photographers (50 Western and 50 from Soviet-bloc countries) over 11 time zones to document a mere 24 hours (May 15, 1987).

One can expect top results, considering the list of shooters assembled: to name a few (of the 50 Western shooters), Eddie Adams, Jodi Cobb, Frank Johnston, David Kennerly, Galen Rowell (American); Frans Lanting (Dutch); and Jean-Pierre Laffont (French).

Some ``firsts'' resulted, such as cameras being allowed inside Vladimir prison, a model for Solzhenitsyn's memorable ``Gulag Achipelago,'' about 150 miles east of Moscow.

The gesture of openness included Moscow's Suvorov Military Academy and Star City's cosmonaut training center.

But the wry joke photojournalists sometimes repeat among themselves, ``Just set your aperture at F.8 and be there,'' certainly doesn't apply in a situation like this.

Pulitzer Prize winner Eddie Adams was given what turned out to be a mere 20 minutes inside Vladimir prison, with every shot held up for the warden's approval. The results were static.

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After a long harangue he was granted an entire five minutes in an area where the prisoners actually work. The honest shot is published with the static picture, and the second has something in common with several other sensitive areas approached in this endeavor. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Eliot Porter, New York: New York Graphic Society Books. 275 pp., including 86 pages autobiography and 162 photographs. $60.

Eliot Porter, long associated with nature photographs in color, places high on any list of the world's greatest photographers.

In ``Hepaticas,'' 1957 (Color Plate 14), three tiny purple flowers form a gripping composition of fallen oak leaves, pine needles, and a moss-covered rock. It could be a painting, Surrealistic art perhaps, but it is natural beauty portrayed in rare manner.

The autobiographical portion contains such gems as Ansel Adams expressing his aversion to color photography. The two ``good friends - in spite of our differences...,'' as Porter explains it - never agreed on this point.

Porter explains his own viewpoint gently by saying that ``Ansel Adams felt that color ... was simply copying nature, whereas in black and white the hues of the subject could be rendered in almost any desired tone of gray ... allowing ... personal interpretation. Adams, however, like many, failed to see that color manipulation can have an interpretive power like the control of tonal values in black and white....'' ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Eye on Australia, by Michael Ruetz, New York: New York Graphic Society. 140 pp. 61 color illustrations. $50.

Australia marks its bicentennial in 1988, and the reader will be pleased that Michael Ruetz had an excuse to train his Linhof camera with its 110-degree ``scope'' (read, wide angle, man, super wide) on a deserving subject. The results are a visual feast.

Hang onto your seats, mates. The dust cover goes clear around and over the back; the title page has the credits imposed on a vast prairie scene. Both are scrumptious, but you haven't begun to get the style. After several ho-hum bridge, factory, and pasture scenes the real book opens on Page 36.

The first three 27-inch scenics take your breath away. Driftwood, groves of trees, more seacoast - and just before it gets boring - the left page folds out for a prairie view of more than 40 inches.

As you stretch your arms out to see the whole thing, it is recommended that you hum a few bars of ``Waltzing Matilda.''

The overriding consideration in selection of subject matter here is that it must fit into extreme wide angle. Sorry, no aborigines - or sheep, for that matter. One person is included, the photographer's back in a splashing coastal scene. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Taj Mahal, photographs by Raghu Rai, with text by Usha Rai. New York: The Vendome Press. 160 pp. $65.

Raghu Rai is a well-known Indian lensman who works for Magnum and has contributed regularly to the top news and photo magazines of the world. Over several years, he assembled a wide variety of thoughtful and precious images of this world-class treasure.

More than 100 illustrations are included. One of the finest shows in the foreground three laborers struggling with a large wheeled cart. There's only a glimpse of ``the Taj'' in the background. The symbolism is massive.

To my satisfaction, many of the best views are from my favorite side, the back. The focal point is constantly this one temple, but the beautiful yet tragic story of India is told by juxtaposition.

R. Norman Matheny is a Monitor staff photographer.

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