Daily Picture Show

Drunk Cops And A Fanny-Pack: Christopher Anderson's Caracas

Most foreigners seeking tranquility do not choose Caracas. Other parts of Venezuela perhaps — the coast or Angel Falls. But photojournalists often have a skewed sense of calm. So when Christopher Anderson decided he was done photographing Mideast conflict zones, a few years back, he headed straight for Venezuela's capital. This was in 2004, as the country was preparing for a referendum on whether to keep President Hugo Chavez — and as crime there was building to a crescendo that would gain it recognition as "murder capital of the world."

"I thought, let's go check it out. Then I kind of got sucked into the place," Anderson recalls over the phone.

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His latest book, Capitolio, coming out next month (Picture Show got a sneak peak) is the product of his five years there. The project recently pushed him to the top of a short list of photographers nominated for the environmental Prix Pictet award, another notch on his long awards belt.

The stunning black-and-white-photos hit on various aspects of life in the capitolio; shoot-em-ups between drunk police on motorcycles and streets gangs, slums writhing with sex and violence and, naturally, Chavez lovers and haters.

Even for a seasoned conflict photographer, Caracas proved a difficult place to photograph, he says. At first the government welcomed him, but then life got more complicated. He was arrested numerous times; people were perpetually suspicious of him.

"In Venezuela, the camera is a weapon for both sides of the issue, whether you are pro- or anti-Chavez," he recalls.

And so he took to using a small Contax T3 point-and-shoot which he says fit nicely into his fanny-pack, where no one would suspect that he was a serious Magnum photographer. (Note: the Picture Show endorses the use of fanny-packs only in special circumstances.)

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The police let Anderson tag along during their frequent gun battles with gangs, which often occurred while drinking on motorcycles, he says. Christopher Anderson/Magnum hide caption

itoggle caption Christopher Anderson/Magnum

For the most part, he didn't take assignments during this period, he says, because he "didn't want to be controlled." He wanted to let the experience unfold without any predetermined plan.

Amid the rallies and oil fields, it's apparent that he did find moments of tranquility: an ethereal reflection in a window; a dog prancing through a cobweb of shadows; mist floating over tiny houses. In the book, these moments of peace are often juxtaposed with more jarring imagery — a reminder of the contradictions inherent in Chavez Land.

Magnum put together an interesting audio slideshow of his photos, as well, that is worth checking out. The book, published by Editorial RM , should be available in late August.
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