In the past few years we have seen any number of interesting experiments in making words and pictures work together to create an artistic unity. So it is more with astonishment that disappointment that we approach this book, a throwback with its pompous, literal-minded and grossly overwritten captions and derivative text.

The pictures themselves are wonderful. Thrown together in the most casual order, as is fitting, they express beautifully the rich jumble of feelings and events that make up the musteriously universal experience of family life.

Many pictures are familiar, for every social photographer from Van Der Zee to Bill Owens appears here. But there are also dozens of archive photos showing family picnics, living rooms, sod huts, ragged caravans of pioneers and simple faces from our past. One studies them almost obsessively, trying somehow to step across into their fixed, vanished world.

Unfortunately the captions, if one reads them, take this pleasure from us and tell us what we are seeing: "Feelings of stress and alienation pervade this photograph. A child clings to her pensive father, while the mother looks in another direction, remote in her own thoughts."

Still, the pictures are worth the price of admission. (Studio/Viking, $16.95)