November 07, 1994 12:00 PM

by John Loengard

You’ve got to accentuate the positive, as the old song lyric goes. That’s taken for granted in photography, where the negative, that spectral reverse image that you get back from the developer and toss in a drawer, is rarely seen and not much heard about. But John Loengard loves negatives. A photographer and longtime picture editor for LIFE, he loves not only the beguiling surfaces of pictures but the underlying structures that the negative puts into strange relief.

In recent years, Loengard has been photographing the precious negatives of celebrated images against bright backgrounds. Seen that way even the familiar shots of Babe Ruth and the flag raising at Iwo Jima seem as strange and small as Persian miniatures. Lewis Hine’s famous picture of a worker balancing like a tightrope walker during the construction of the Empire State building takes on the supernatural glow of a Cocteau film.

Loengard’s last picture is of the ashes left when the photographer Brett Weston celebrated his 80th birthday by deliberately burning most of his negatives. It’s a fitting end to a book that reminds you that part of the appeal of photography lies in the hopelessness of its attempt to outwit eternity. (Arcade, $29.95)

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