December 14, 1987 12:00 PM

edited by Ruth Silverman

Few books have so admirably focused on sports photography as an art form in itself or on its use to create portraits of athletes, both famous and obscure. Silverman, a former associate curator of the International Center of Photography in New York, has collected 139 photographs, eight in color, dating from 1860 to 1986, and few of them are anything less than absorbing. In many cases the anonymously photographed shots—some from postcards—are more striking than those by such famous names as Stieglitz or Friedlander (though Robert Mapplethorpe’s 1976 view of Arnold Schwarzenegger or Francesco Scavullo’s close-up of the aging Willie Mays in 1979 are still hard to turn away from). But there is a pervasive sense of vision and control. None of these images just happened to be so captivating. The book includes an odd little foreword by pro-basketball-player-tumed-U.S.-Senator Bill Bradley, who says his “imagination runs wild when I look at Mao Tse-tung at the Ping-Pong table [in a 1961 shot by Lu Houmin]. What thoughts churn in the brain behind that broad smile? What does he think about as he paddles the small white ball?” Here’s a suggestion, Senator: “Whoa, how am I going to hit this damned thing?” (Knopf, $35)

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