Book Review: “Capitolio” by Christopher Anderson, Magnum Photographer

Capitolio by Christopher Anderson

(Above image from Capitolio.  © Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)

One of the mottos that I have is “Buy Books, Not Gear“. Why? While buying gear is important in photography, the best “bang-for-the-buck” way to improve your photography is to buy lots of photography books to improve your photographic vision and insight. Many of us (including myself) can get sucked into “gear-porn” and worry too much about the equipment, rather than gaining inspiration and creating art.

For this week, I wanted to review “Capitolio” by Magnum photographer Christopher Anderson.

I picked up my copy of Capitolio via the iPad in the iTunes bookstore after being recommended by my buddy Bill Reeves. The word “Capitolio” refers to the domed building that houses a government. For example in Washington D.C., the Capitolio is set on top of Capitol Hill. For this book, Christopher Anderson set out to Caracas, the capital city of Venezuela.

Capitolio by Christopher Anderson
(© Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)

The reason why Anderson called the book “Capitolio” was because he saw the city of Caracas as a metaphorical Capitolio. When visiting Caracas, he was confronted with lots of confusion and a misunderstanding of the place. Some of the things that stood out to him: the city in disrepair (after being built up by petrol dollars), the violence (Caracas has one of the highest murder rates in the world), as well as the sensuality of the place (beautiful women and exotic clubs).

Capitolio by Christopher Anderson
(© Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)

In the project he also is drawn to the revolution of the pople, and wish to rise up against the government.

One of the things that Anderson tries to emphasize is that this isn’t just another project where a white man goes to a Latin-American country and tries to criticize it for its wrongdoings. Rather, the book is a look into his lack of understanding of place, and the darkness that obscured his judgement.

What I loved most about the book is the cinematic feel. Anderson says this about the project:

“It is perhaps by accident that Capitolio is a set of still photographs. In my mind, I was making a short film, but the tool I always seemed to have in my hand was a still camera. Putting the the pictures together was an attempt to rip this cinema from the screen and stuff it into the printed page. I am obsessed with the idea that these images somehow move rather than exist int he vacuum of the lone image. I don’t see the space between the images. Each image, connected, completes the photograph that preceded it and is fulfilled only by the one that follows”

Therefore when looking through the book, look at the connections between the photographs – and see how Anderson tries to create a narrative through the book.

Anderson’s images in the book are very dark, high with contrast- and make you feel like you are directly in the dust-filled air of Caracas. You can hear the people yelling on the streets, the dim lights in the back alleys, as well as the energy and sensuality of the people.

Capitolio on the iPad?

Capitolio by Christopher Anderson
(© Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)

In a interview with David Alan Harvey (Magnum Photographer) on burn magazine, he discusses his thoughts about making Capitolio a book for the iPad, and his thoughts about the entire process:

David Alan Harvey: …tell me in your own words a little bit about where you got the idea [to make an iPad monograph out of Capitolio] and what you did.

Chris Anderson: Basically, the book was starting to sell out, and I started thinking, only a certain number of people can actually get this book, and the ultimate expression of what I did in Venezuela really comes together in a book. You know, a slideshow on the web doesn’t really capture the whole thing, seeing a print doesn’t really capture it, it’s in this book form, and the way I put the pictures together, and the way the pictures come one after another, the relationship between the other one…this final book form that we think of, that’s what this book was. Not just a collection of pictures. And, I sorta think, well, there’s only 3000 copies of this book printed, so there’s only a certain select people who are actually going to experience that book, and because it’s an expensive book, only a certain number of people with the money to buy the thing.

So, I started thinking, you know, it was kind of the confluence of a lot of things. Thinking about the finite audience of a printed book at the same time that I’m sitting here holding this new technology in my hand, an iPad and an iPhone, and thinking, “a ha!”

Maybe this is a way to have an in-finite audience. And, that really I could, even though my first love is the printed book, I could still kinda get this experience and get across what I was trying to say to a much larger audience than I ever could with the printed book. And the applications of that in terms of reaching audience and what does that mean, even in an academic setting with students, you know?

[…]

The quality, you know, it looks amazing. The quality is kind of better there than…I mean, in terms of there’s a certain texture or quality to it that you see on the iPad that kind of beats everything, don’t you think?

[Keep reading]

Conclusion

Capitolio by Christopher Anderson
(© Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to have a book with beautiful contrasty black and white images, superb sequencing, as well as a fascinating outsider look to the city of Caracas.

The book is currently out-of-stock on Amazon, but there are still a few used copies available. If you own an iPad, I highly recommend downloading it in the iTunes store, as it is has extended features, such as a “director’s cut”, as well as a video interview with Anderson himself.

My favorite photos from Capitolio

Capitolio by Christopher Anderson
(© Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)
Capitolio by Christopher Anderson
(© Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)
Capitolio by Christopher Anderson
(© Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)
Capitolio by Christopher Anderson
(© Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)
Capitolio by Christopher Anderson
(© Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)
Capitolio by Christopher Anderson
(© Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)
Capitolio by Christopher Anderson
(© Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)
Capitolio by Christopher Anderson
(© Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)
Capitolio by Christopher Anderson
(© Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)
Capitolio by Christopher Anderson
(© Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)
Capitolio by Christopher Anderson
(© Christopher Anderon / Magnum Photos)

Related Articles

Video of Anderson talking about Capitolio

Below Anderson talks about Capitolio during a workshop in Pianello, Italy.

Purchase Capitolio

Buy Capitolio on Amazon >>

Buy Capitolio in the iTunes Store >> (you can see it on your iPhone/iPad)

What is your take on digital books, and photography books on the iPad? Do you think it is gimmicky, or the future? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! 

Scroll to Top