Geisha. In the West, we think of her as woman debased: Her beauty stylized, her face masked, she is at the service of man, whom she pleasures at his will. Cobb, a National Geographic photographer, confers dignity on the geisha--or rather, she allows the geisha's natural dignity to emerge. She enters the geisha's ""flower and willow world"" and returns with stunning photographs and personal stories told by the women themselves. To be a geisha is an art, and it is a dying one--only 1,000 geishas remain, and their average age is over 40, Cobb reports (some of the most striking photos here are of elderly geishas, faces lined, skin sagging under the artfully applied makeup). Mayumi, a geisha, evokes the mystery and magic of her world in terms even a Westerner can understand: ""This world is like Hollywood--the smart young girls concentrate on their skills; the dumb ones look for a man. As in A Chorus Line, everyone has something different she wants. But the serious ones stay. In the end, art is everything.