May 25, 1987 12:00 PM

photographs by Joel D. Levinson

To most people, flea markets are a place to pick up an old Frank Sinatra record or get a cheap lamp. To Levinson, they’re a microcosm of American society. That’s getting a little grandiose about it, but these pictures are often evocative. Taken at flea markets around California during the last 10 years or so, the black-and-white photographs suggest a strange combination of resignation (well, we might as well get rid of it) and hopefulness (surely somebody will want this thing). And they generate an irresistible curiosity: What have these things seen in their lifetimes? Who are all these people? A dowdy woman examines racks full of wigs. A little boy peeks out from behind a stand selling various portraits of Christ. A woman sits at a grand piano, which rests on a large Oriental rug that has been spread out on the dirt. A girl standing in front of a huge portrait of Mao Zedong brandishes a stuffed elk head. Like a good real-life flea market, this book offers plenty to browse through, even if it doesn’t have exactly the thing you’re looking for. (Braus, 5855 Beaudry St., Emeryville, Ca. 94608, paper, $16.95, cloth, $29.95)

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