Pictures of the world's wonder

The Most Beautiful Place in the World, edited by Jay Maisel. New York: Friendly Press, Inc. (Printed in Japan by Dai Nippon.) l42 color plates, 254 pages; $50. Ask 10 master photographers a subjective question like what they think is the most beautiful place in the world, and you get 10 beautiful photoessays.

Vying for the title of ``most beautiful'' are five natural landscapes (Eastern Sierra; Maine woods; Sahara; Quelin, China; and the Palouse, a region in eastern Washington state and Idaho), two whole countries (Morocco and New Guinea,), two cities (Venice and New York), and one underwater vista (Ras Mohammed, at the tip of the Sinai Peninsula). Two of the contributors take 12 photographs to make their point, three take 13 each, four rest their case with 15, and the editor, working with his own material, gets 19 pictures.

Editor Jay Maisel, one of the most widely known photographers in the world, found their replies satisfactory contributions to his lavish and diverse photo book.

In his words, ``I wanted a book that would not only please the eye but stir the senses; that would not only show the face of a place but look into its heart; that would reveal both the endless wonders of the world and the equally endless ways of experiencing it....''

The spectacular result contains more than 140 color photographs and boasts a high ratio of two-page spreads of high quality, 13- by 20- inch spaces.

This large display - complimentary for most of the photographs - places the reader unusually close to large prints, with the occasional result that technical faults are all the more noticeable.

One print of outstanding quality, on the first page, combines a deep crimson burst of light on the snow-edged mountainside of Mt. Whitney with a looming moon. This extremely long telephoto shot is so startling that only the most hurried or preoccupied viewer will manage to turn the page without stopping! The Sahara views include an unusual shot of a boy walking at the edge of a sand dune with a sunlighted dune behind.

The vast majority of the remainder are worthy contenders for the title, with perhaps the most unpredictable being aerial views of farm fields, or ``land art,'' as Swiss-born Georg Gerster calls it.

The lay of the land influences the turn and weaves of the farm vehicles as they cultivate and harvest, scratching and clipping out harmonious designs. Viewed from altitudes afforded only by aircraft, the farm work takes on shape and color in an effortless creation: an artwork that suggests the vivid imagination and artistic insight of a great painting.

The photographers contributing to the book are: David Doubilet, Georg Gerster, Burt Glinn, Farrell Grehan, Harry Gruyaert, Ernst Haas, Hiroji Kubota, Kazuyoshi Nomanchi, Jay Maisel, and Galen Rowell.

R.Norman Matheny is a staff photographer for the Monitor.

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