Picks and Pans Review: Big Pictures

updated 11/11/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/11/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Photographs by Matthew Rolston

Rolston lets you know where he's coming from right on the frontispiece, where he quotes the famous exchange between William Holden and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950). He: "You're Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big." She: "I am big. It's the pictures that got small."

You have to hand it to Rolston, who at 34 has been a star photographer (in both senses) for almost a decade. His pictures are boldly designed, consummately crafted and chillingly chic. Whether he is dressing up Michael Jackson in a jewelled crown and ermine robe and seating him on a throne or re-creating, with models, the look of '40s Hollywood soundstages, mystique rises like perfume from every thick, exquisitely printed page.

But if Rolston's pictures are big, they are also strangely silent. For all their hip irreverence, the photographs revere star magnetism too much to be psychologically revealing or aesthetically risky (contrast with Annie Liebovitz's wicked mud-wrestling photos of Roseanne and Tom Arnold). Rolston is so in thrall to theatricality and the performer's aura that the pictures often turn out hokey or grandiose (Kelly LeBrock hamming it up in The Seven Deadly Sins Series, for instance). Rolston's are perfect Hollywood images—self-adoring and all surface. (Bulfinch, $60)

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