EUGENE ATGET, 1857-1927, by James Borcoman (National Gallery of Canada/University of Chicago, $35). Atget's photographs capture the France of dreams: an autumn afternoon at Saint-Cloud, a caf,e on the Boulevard Montparnasse, a quiet canal or lake, a street scene with bakery shop or bookstore, the carved wooden door of a confessional, a stone fountain, a brick mill, the Trianon palace serene against a cloudless sky. This album-catalogue handsomely chronicles a master photographer's artistic career, traces the early history of French photography, and describes the formation of a major collection of Atget's work by the National Gallery of Canada.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF BRITISH PHOTOGRAPHY 1839-1900, edited by Mark Haworth-Booth (Aperture, $40); THE VICTORIAN ART WORLD IN PHOTOGRAPHS, by Jeremy Maas (Universe, $35). What is odd in looking at historical photographs is to see familiar-looking streets and houses and vistas filled with all these oddly dressed people with beards and bustles. The first of these two Victorian albums focuses on the major photographers of the period: Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron, Lewis Carroll, Clementina, Lady Hawarden and others. Short biographies give relevant details about a host of other practitioners of the newfangled art. The second book provides pictures of the major Victorian artists -- including what seems like the entire Royal Academy, all the Pre-Raphaelites, and a host of models and mistresses. Encyclopedic in character, both books will provide essential background material for the scholar of the period.
BILL BRANDT: London in the Thirties, edited by Mark Haworth-Booth (Pantheon, $22.95). If Brassai had abandoned Paris for London, his photographs would look like Bill Brandt's: Workingclass men in a pub, a prostitute with a customer, a barmaid pulling a pint, crowded buses, tattoo parlors, street orators, flower girls, lonely men in shirtsleeves leaning out of windows. But Brandt's work takes a more polemical twist when he counterpoints elegant young people playing backgammon with the house servants resting in a bare kitchen. On another page a well-dressed couple dine in an expensive restaurant; juxtaposed is a photograph of a tramp rooting through the dustbins while a waiter looks on.
NEW COLOR/NEW WORK, edited by Sally Eauclaire (Abbeville, $39.95; paperback, $24.95). Color photographs are marvelously vital, as the 18 photographers included here show again and again. Imagine a video arcade in black and white! Here gradations of color and odd hues can capture swimming pools, the latest fashions, the changing seasons in ways unavailable to the black-and-white photographer. But for all their beauty, these images are tinged with sadness: None of them will last a generation without fading, in 20 years they will be bleached out, dull, lackluster because the chemistry of color photography is fugitive. So enjoy these beauties while ye may, old time it is a-flying.
SPACESHOTS: The Beauty of Nature Beyond Earth, by Timothy Ferris (Pantheon, $35). The majesty of the heavens has been proclaimed by poets, but now it can be verified in photographs. Ferris has selected some 80 pictures of galaxies, shooting stars, moonscapes, astronauts, nebulae, the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter. Nearly all these images are startlingly beautiful, eerie, and even, to use a word that is for once appropriate, sublime. Anyone with a sense of wonder will find himself transfixed by this album, the real life equivalents to scenes out of 2001: A Space Odyssey.