Picks and Pans Review: L'histoire De France

updated 09/09/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/09/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Ralph Gibson

God, they say, is in the details. So is Ralph Gibson's heart. Over the last 20 years this native Californian has become renowned, particularly in Europe, for his spare yet sensuous black-and-white photographs—female nudes, portraits, still lifes, architectural details—each a tantalizing mystery, the best as poised and insistent as dream images.

After 14 monographs in black and white, Gibson, 52, has now released his first book in color. It's a wonder he waited this long, since his feeling for color is subtle and poetic. Possibly he needed color to express fully his fascination with the subject: the culture of his adopted country, France, which he first visited in 1971.

Gibson doesn't give you vistas. He blurs, truncates, isolates. Water courses along a stone gutter (on the sidewalk beside, half out of the frame, a woman walks in a long blue dress); a metric measuring tape dangles from the neck of a tailor; dead leaves lie amid the shiny decorative bases of tables at an outdoor café.

Through wit, selectivity or the quiet ardor of his appreciation, Gibson manages to elevate even the obvious above cliché. A wine bottle in close-up, for example, becomes a kind of monument, his version of the Eiffel Tower.

The details seem to signify things beyond themselves: the resonance of tradition in French dress, architecture, custom and service; the continuing sensuality of the present. The effect is intimate rather than claustrophobic. The pictures invite reverie. Gibson's way of closing in opens things up. (Kodak/Aperture, $49.95)

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