Superb nature photography brings 'Salmon' to life

Salmon, photographs by Atsushi Sakurai. Introduction by John N. Cole. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 94 pp. $18.95.

''For many years I have had a desire bordering on obsession to observe and photograph the spawning run of the wild Pacific salmon,'' writes Atsushi Sakurai in his foreword to ''Salmon,'' and what wonderful results his magnificent obsession produced.

The 65 color photographs in this book - taken from over and under water, from near and far - are so kinetic as to make the salmon seem to come alive during the long journey upriver to spawn.

Sakurai starts with the salmon at sea, takes them to the rivers, over the falls, to their spawning grounds, to their death, ending with the emergence of millions of young salmon (smolts) that will head back to the ocean. There are notes on the photographs at the end of the book.

The introductory text, supplied by John N. Cole, is exceptionally readable and provides a more than ample natural historical context in which Sakurai's photographs can be understood.

Cole's good work notwithstanding, the photographs carry ''Salmon.'' They're what nature photography is about, and Sakurai's obsession is our good fortune.

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