January 14, 1985 12:00 PM

by John Szarkowski

If you want your picture taken to show people 100 years from now what you look like, get Penn to do it. If you want a picture that will show people what you wished you look like, get Scavullo to do it. In either case bring your checkbook and lots of references, since these men are among the world’s most exclusive individuals, not to mention photographers. These collections of their work are absorbing in unique ways. Scavullo’s photographs, whether of anonymous models or of such personalities as Mae West, Janis Joplin, Diane von Furstenberg, Salvador Dalí, Margaux Hemingway, Barbra Streisand and Michael Jackson, are extroverted—these are portraits Whose subjects are posing in more ways than one. They’re as revealing in their extravagant way, though, as Penn’s are in his far more reserved style. The latter’s celebrities include Jasper Johns, Picasso, Isaac Bashevis Singer, George Balanchine, Truman Capote and Christian Dior, but there are also shots of a New York sewer cleaner, various still lifes, fashion photography and samples of Penn’s anthropological portraits from such places as New Guinea and Dahomey (now Benin). Museum of Modern Art photography director John Szarkowski is obviously engaging in hyperbole when he writes in his helpful, usually straightforward introduction to the book’s 156 Penn photographs that “Penn’s private, stubborn, artistic intuitions have revised our sense of the world’s content.” But Penn’s photographs are consistently arresting, the kind people talk about as worth 1,000 words—and often quite a few more. (Scavullo: Harper & Row, $60; Penn: Museum of Modern Art, $60)

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