Of all the comprehensive volumes issued in observance of photography's 150th anniversary, ''On the Art of Fixing a Shadow'' is the most ambitious and authoritative. Little new ground is broken by the essays, written by the curators of the touring show that occasioned the book, but they nonetheless provide a rationale for the selections and an explanation of the medium's claims to being an art. As might be expected, the period from the first daguerreotypes through the wartime images of Robert Capa and W. Eugene Smith is described convincingly, while the selection of works from the postwar era seems more arbitrary. But even the 19th-century sections of the exhibition could have benefited from some renegade or revisionist thinking. As it is, ''On the Art of Fixing a Shadow'' confirms just about everything already known about the art of photography and does so with images that are often spellbinding in their beauty. The reproductions may not always be faithful to the original prints, but they are nonetheless exquisite. (New York Times)
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