Southwest vision. Man and desert

Southwest USA, by Gerd Kittel. Introduction by Peggy Larson. New York: Thames and Hudson. 80 pp. 80 color plates. $40. A delightful photograph in this book - ``Monument Valley, Ariz.'' - speaks volumes about the American Southwest. The day is sunny, the sky spread with soft, white clouds. In the upper-left corner of the photo stands the faded red rock formation that is the valley's natural monument; in the lower-right-hand corner stands a monument of man - an old broken-down black car that is fading into a rust as red as the ground.

Gerd Kittel, a German photographer who practiced medicine before turning to photography in 1980, has managed to capture the ironic, witty, and sometimes sad balance that exists between man and nature in the Southwest.

The acerbic, environmentalist-oriented introduction of Peggy Larson could lead one to expect this book to be a condemnation of man's role in the desert. But Kittel's work does not inspire such harsh feelings. Instead, the photographer seems to take pleasure in capturing the correlations that exist between man and nature - from the muted pastels of faded gas stations and weather-beaten landscapes to the electric neons of man-made signs and brilliant desert sunsets.

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