Simplicity and clarity define a collection

Life photographer and editor John Loengard shares images, wisdom

Flipping through As I See It by John Loengard, I was arrested by a photograph of a man looking at some sort of manuscript. The radiant black-and-white image hummed with life and the texture of the paper had an almost ethereal glow.

In an age dominated by digital color photography, Loengard's images - rich in tones that span simply from black to white - are refreshing for their clarity and emotional evocativeness.

They also have the advantage of being accompanied (in the back of the book, beneath thumbnail-size versions of the book's images) by descriptions of how Loengard carried out each assignment. In some cases he adds snippets of photographic history and explains aspects of the craft, giving this collection almost the feel of a photography textbook.

(Loengard knows whereof he writes. He shot his first freelance assignment for Life Magazine while still at Harvard in the 1950s. Several years after graduation, he joined the photo staff at Life and later become photo editor there.)

Adding visual weight to his words, Loengard shows images of master photographers at work and at play: Annie Leibovitz perched on a gargoyle during a shoot at the Chrysler Building, Henri Cartier-Bresson flying a kite.

Along with these famous shutter-snappers, personalities like Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson, and Maya Angelou grace the pages. But unlike some celebrity images that rely on a well-known visage to generate interest, the quality of light and the expressions captured by Loengard generate their own intrinsic drama.

Portraits dominate the book, but not all the faces are famous. One brilliant pairing (don't forget that Loengard was a photo editor) is of a lower-class boy from Manchester, England and an upper-crust lad at Eaton. Their attire - scruffy versus elegant - denotes class extremes, but both are strikingly handsome and boyishly confident.

Compared with hefty coffee-table tomes, this book's small size at 8 by 9 inches makes for intimate viewing of Loengard's intimate photographs. (However, the images that cross the gutter to cover two pages suffer, as much of them is bent into the center of the volume.)

History, art, culture, personality - it's all here in Loengard's smartly composed and richly textured photographs.

John Nordell is a staff photographer.

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