The Work of Atget: The Ancient Re gime; The Museum of Modern Art; New York.

Bill Harris: New York at Night; Stewart, Tabori & Chang; New York.

Robert Freson: The Taste of France; Stewart, Tabori & Chang; New York.

Ansel Adams: Examples; New York Graphic Society/Little, Brown; Boston.

William Manchester: One Brief Shining Moment: Remembering Kennedy; Little, Brown; Boston.

Photography reigns supreme and today no one would dare deny it the rank of art. Yet, we are more certain about this self-evident truth when looking at the images of Atget, who still belongs to the 19th-century tradition of the magicians of the post-daguerreo type, or to that of Adams—who is one of the most distinguished perpetuators of that legacy. We wrote about the first two albums in this series of photographs by Eugene Atget published in this country (Chronicles of Culture, Vol. 7, No. 8, August 1983), and have acknowledged his pioneering genius, subtle significance, and priceless heritage. The Ancient Regime only confirms our opinion. In it, Atget consolidates with an incomparable visual consistency, our acquaintance with the grandeur and depth of what is called French civilization. Confronted with the imagery, one feels more poignantly than ever that “les civilisations sont mortelles’’—as formulated by Verlaine, Atget’s contemporary. Emptiness and decay seem to suffuse the plates, but, oddly enough, there’s something ennobling and hopeful in a Versailles without tourists. And looking at the facade of Petit Trianon through Atget’s antiquated lens makes one instantly recognize how the past and present mix in French cultural destiny, and where all those great tastemakers of elegance like St. Laurent and Givenchy come from.Tradition, tradi….

New York at Night is exactly the opposite: both tradition and subtlety are drained off from this copious, lush volume of pictures as if a vacuum cleaner were trained on them. Only big cities live at night, while other cities sleep which makes them no less rich in complexities and substances, just half-alive. By big we mean not necessarily large cities but the grandiose, mean, and ebullient—those like New York City. The images are evocative, superbly reproduced, and composed into an integral volume. They also deserve some better text. The introduction by one Mr. Suares (listed on the flap as “author of many books,” employed, at one time, by both The New York Times and New York magazine) consists of listing statistics and restaurants. The same, more or less, goes for Mr. Bill Harris, who provided the body text: he tries, rather tediously, to capture the soul of New York through the reporting of factual data. The flatness of his commentary is in reverse proportion to the vertical eruption of architectural forms that leap from the pages and which, for almost a century, define New York in mankind’s imagination. Harris was also an employee of The New York Times, which proves that little can be more boring than a native journalist who attempts to render justice to a fascinating city. We closed the resplendent album with an impression that by concentrating on bars and Rolls Royces, the authors have left the truly fascinating aspects of New York untouched.

Robert Freson’s The Taste of France is a tantalizing delight. The quality of photography, typography, reproduction, and printing are unsurpassed, but to apply this kind of visual seduction to presenting perhaps the best food on earth is cruel. The perverse greatness of the volume lies in the circumstance that it focuses on folksy, outrightly peasant cuisine and alimentation, and brings back to the world’s attention the mere fact that the real beatitudes and glories of eating are not in Maxim’s or Tour d’Argen but somewhere in Languedoc, Touraine, and Anjou. This is the most powerful populist manifesto available in the American book market to date, and whoever will be first to identify oneself with it—be it George McGovern or Jerry Falwell—will score a triumph for his party, program, or ideology.

Ansel Adams is the single most convincing and effective environmentalist alive. We are not too taken with the ecologist argument as the acme of human cognitive effort and logical acumen, yet, looking at Mr. Adams’s picture makes us uncharacteristically benign even toward the inanities of the Sierra Club dialectics. The haunting beauty of his imagery is well-known in the better educated strata of our society, and any attempt to describe their form and content seems both futile and somehow diminishing of anyone who would attempt such a task. The photo graphs should be consumed as they are, for eyes only, and venerated as such. The loving care with which the New York Graphic Society and Little, Brown published Mr. Adams’s book is laudable.

Mr. Manchester’s One Brief Shining Moment: Remembering Kennedy has as much text as it has pictures. We leave the former to historians, political scientists, and social critics, but the latter is splendid and valuable as a document of how far modern journalistic photography can render a subject worshiped if it only wishes to do so. Some will say that it is a biased iconography, or graphic mythmaking. Maybe so. But because of the historic idiosyncracy of his fate, John Kennedy can already be placed above our quotidian strifes. This volume gladly serves as a sample of how to do it.