By Fiona Hurrell, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Photographers have always been attracted to the city of Rio de Janeiro thanks to its colorful landscape and diverse society. The latest, however, is renowned National Geographic and Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey who has immortalized this vibrant city in his new book, titled “(based on a true story)”.
In the middle of promoting his work, Harvey takes a moment to share what it is about Rio that captured his attention so strongly. He explains “Rio is like a Shakespeare stage for me. On this spectacular ‘set’ is life in the raw. For better or worse. Every story, every drama played out in the most dramatic way. Rio has an edge. Every artist wants to work on the edge.”
Although many photography books have been published about Rio, this latest uses a different approach in which one is taken on a journey through a fictional night spent in the city. From the glamorous haunts of the rich to the drug dealer strolling the streets of a favela, all aspects of the city are uncovered. In addition, the ‘puzzle’ concept of the book is highly versatile, allowing the viewer to take it apart and reconstruct the images in order to create a new story.
Harvey describes his reasons for choosing this ‘visual novella’ technique as a way of remaining true to his own experiences and photographic style. He explains, “I have always been frustrated that my work for magazines eliminated the very experience I was having in order to get that work. So for Rio, I decided to mix my personal life in Rio with the documentary backdrop.”
Looking back on his time spent in the city and the experiences that helped shaped his creativity, Harvey adds, “I spent two years or more doing pretty straightforward documentary work in Rio. Hung out in the favelas, partied with the rich, went on missions with the BOPE [Special Police Operations Battalion] and, in general, crisscrossed through every demographic. I do not judge. I only observe. I interpret what is around me as best I can.”
As is natural when working in real-life conditions, photographers often face challenges of varying degrees. For Harvey, each new day brought forth a different encounter yet he insists that his artistic instinct kept him grounded and ensured that the finished product lived up to his high expectations.
He says, “I wake up every morning with no clue what will happen to me that day. No idea how pictures will come to me. Yet I have no fear. For I go into animal survival mode. See better, hear better, smell better. Getting ‘in the zone’ where the world centers on whatever is 15 feet around you and you are at one with the scene and this is when the magic happens.”
In between working on his photography, Harvey produces an online photography magazine called Burn. He also runs his own publishing house BurnBooks where people can purchase his latest creation (based on a true story).
Having spent significant time in Rio, Harvey knows that some of his subjects may never see themselves immortalized in print. Therefore the photographer plans to return to the city later this year where he will distribute a newspaper version of his latest book to favela residents and anyone else he happens to meet. He states, “I am a pay back, pay forward type. It is my way.”
To learn more about David Alan Harvey, Burn Magazine or BurnBooks, visit his website.