November 19, 1990 12:00 PM

by Sylvia Plachy

Each week since 1982, New York City’s Village Voice has presented one of Sylvia Plachy’s quizzical, uncaptioned black-and-white photographs under the heading “Sylvia Plachy’s Unguided Tour.”

Even in smeary ink on newsprint, her pictures make you pause. Many of them possess the eerie serenity of dream images and, as in a dream, seem taken from an intimate, free-floating vantage point. Her best photos retain their dreamlike poise even when their content is gritty and jarring (a middle-aged man on a stretcher on a New York City boulevard, his bare chest white in the glare of headlights).

Plachy is both a journalist (many of the images were taken on story assignments for the Voice) and a diarist (one of her most uncanny and ecstatic photographs is a wide-angle of her father and her son clowning together in a swimming pool). In either role she has a refined sense of the absurd, a fluid compositional style and a knack for capturing the ineffable (two lovers, locked in a brooding privacy, leaving a scenic lookout where some restless boys are hanging out).

Some of her more disturbing images (a boy, with his jacket pulled over his eyes, screaming in a parking lot at night) bring to mind Diane Arbus. But Plachy’s subtle humor and sensitivity to the forcefulness of the ephemeral recall her friend and mentor, André Kertész, one of the pioneers of 35mm photography.

Like Kertész, Plachy emigrated to the United States from Hungary—in her case, following the 1956 revolution. The cadences and consonants of her native language still flavor her speech in English, but in the language of the lens she has learned to speak like a poet. (Aperture, $39.95)

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