"Photoshop Fine Arts Effects Cookbook" provides recipes for Photoshop users to manipulate their works to look like the styles of great photographers and artists from the past. The recipes include creating images that look like Daguerreotypes, or platinum prints, or the work of photographers like Ansel Adams and Jerry Uelsmann. Beardsworth also shows how to make one's photographs look like the work of Canaletto or Turner or one of the impressionists.
Before turning to the book's merits, I have to offer an opinionated view. One of the first questions in my mind was why one might want to do this? I often suggest that photographers would benefit from considering the old masters but not to the extent of duplicating their styles precisely. Certainly I could understand if one had a client who said "I want a picture that looks like Van Gogh!" But I believe that serious photographers as well as other artists start with a vision of what they want their picture to accomplish. Their task then becomes to find the medium and techniques that best achieve this goal. Painters paint because that's the way they believe that they can capture their vision. Photographers take pictures instead of painting because they think photographs are the best way to get at their "truth". Now, there is nothing wrong with using any tool available to bring one's vision into the world. If you want to scratch the wet emulsion on a negative to create your image, that's okay with me. I might not understand your image, but that's a completely different story.
Perhaps my question is not why one would want to imitate another art form or technology but rather how many artists want to do this? I immediately think of the work of painters like Gerhard Richter or Chuck Close who have painted works that are, at first glance, indistinguishable from photographs. Of course, this ambiguity may be exactly what these artists were aiming for. But generally speaking, it is the technique of the media that artists hope to use to lead to the discovery of the vision.
There are plenty of photographers who are pushing at the edges of their medium, like Freeman Paterson and Tony Sweet. And there are plenty of photographers wanting to pay homage to the past. (I can remember standing at Tunnel View in Yosemite at sunset, tripod to tripod with nineteen other photographers, hoping for a gathering storm.) However, I'm not certain that there are many photographers who believe that adopting the techniques of painting is the way to express their vision (although perhaps there are some sitting out there just waiting to learn how it can be done.)
Having said that, Beardsworth does an excellent job of providing us the recipes to recreate these works. I only tried a few recipes, but my Ansel Adams knockoff looked more like Adams then anything I had ever done. My impressionist photograph looked like it belonged in the Salon des Refuses. My Japanese woodblock photograph was less successful but this was more from the use of an inappropriate photograph then from anything the author explained. Besides providing the recipes, the book also includes an intense refresher course in Photoshop tools. The author also tries to tell us how to visualize the way a particular style will fit a subject. He's less successful on that account, but I suppose he could have filled an entire book with just that advice.
I wish that the author had been able to incorporate pictures of works originally created in the duplicated style, but I understand that the fees museums charge for reproduction would probably have made that prohibitive.
Finally I must confess that despite my skepticism, some of the recipes appealed to me. I certainly wished that I had had Photoshop available to me twenty-five years ago when I was a black-and-white fine arts photographer. My work might have looked more like that of A. Adams. But then again, that might not have been me.