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January 9, 1998

ART IN REVIEW

By ROBERTA SMITH

Paul Shambroom - Tanya Bonakdar Gallery - 130 Prince Street, SoHo -Through Jan. 31

The line between art and documentary is a little too fine in the first New York show of Paul Shambroom, a photographer from Minneapolis whose work was seen in the Whitney Biennial last spring. Mr. Shambroom's subject is ''places of power,'' as a 1995 exhibition of his work at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis was titled. He isn't kidding around.

The seven large color photographs on view, drawn from either his ''Factory Series'' or ''Nuclear Series,'' record one sort of bastion or another, most of them rarely photographed or frequented by civilians. One image, for example, shows the control room of a Trident submarine, the Alaska, at the Naval Submarine Base in Bangor, Wash., a claustrophobic array of wires, panels, buttons and telephones.

Elsewhere, a soldier sweeps the floor at F. E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming while behind him, like so many horses in their stalls, a dozen or so B83 nuclear gravity bombs lie in a row on the floor. In other images we see the space shuttle under construction, a soldier preparing four Minuteman II missiles for transport (they seem to be eating him alive) and the first operational B-2 Stealth bomber, just delivered to Whitman Air Force Base in Missouri and accompanied by four soldiers with walkie-talkies who anxiously scan the horizon.

Mr. Shambroom's images are handsomely scary and informative, but they're not really gripping, although this may be part of the point. (The banality of power?) Reading their titles increases the effect somewhat, but ultimately they look too much like the work of a seasoned photojournalist on assignment for National Geographic or Life, especially if one factors out the accessories of scale, framing and the white-walled art gallery. ROBERTA SMITH