Early into Christopher Anderson's Capitolio we are faced with a horned demon exorcised by a cross held aloft over its head. It is this one image which metaphorically sums up the presidency of Hugo Chavez and the polarized nation of Venezuela. The poor tend to see Chavez as a saint while the wealthy few - the four hundred year old elite - paint him as the anti-Christ.
Caracas has become the murder capital of the world and Anderson ushers us into this violent street life filling the journey with a tension that lingers through the book. Guns are drawn and a sidewalk becomes a smear of blood, hoods are lined against a wall arms spread - the dark shadows impenetrable and threatening.
Anderson allows some breathing room with a short parade of architecture and the general populace, less threatening and full of life - sexuality and sensuality perhaps providing the relief from the day to day pressures. Industry is nationalized and the petro dollars that used to flow freely become the source of Chavez's New Deal, Bolivarian Revolution but portrayed by Anderson, the industries seem run by incompetents. It all has the tenor of waste and unprofessionalism. One sleeps on some torn cardboard while the machines sit idle; another man seemingly gets swallowed by the truck he repairs.
Anderson tends to portray Chavez as some type of creeping, dictator-in-waiting who has two faces - one a populist president, the other a demon in sheep's clothing. One spread compares a portrait of Simon Bolivar opposite a stencil of Chavez's face over which someone has written 'capo' - meaning mafia leader. The politicians presumably in his cabinet fair no better as one tugs at his pants wearing a suit which seems to be far too constricting. By book's end Chavez is shown with the same horrific relish as a monster in a B movie - a Tor Johnson of Latin America whose base instincts of greed and gluttony cause his eyes to roll into the back of his head.
Anderson owes much to predecessors like Klein and Alvermann for the way he has constructed his journey book-wise. The photos bleed across double page spreads and are chopped and diced to make graphic layouts with dynamic results but for all of the visual excitement I feel the content relies too much on their trickery. Anderson tries his hand at using the same image in cinematic ways by blowing it up in stages to create a zoom effect. One spread that does work wonderfully of a streetcar and its chanting passengers is a visual delight.
Capitolio's political editorializing seems unexpectedly right-wing and at worst, propagandistic. Is this simply representing the opposing views? If so, why does the last "chapter" before villainizing Chavez describe hoards of soldiers in the streets resembling a scene from Pinochet's playbook. This closely followed by a stencil saying: "Men are like stars, some generate their own light while others reflect the brilliance they receive." The pages that follow are of Chavez enjoying mass public adoration.
Capitolio's bright communist red cloth covers are certain to get attention, as is the elegant presentation and printing which is finely accomplished with a great looking matte lustre. Capitolio was published by Editorial RM out of Mexico City.
Anderson has said "I sometimes imagine Caracas as a living breathing animal. Obscured by the darkness it appears both violent and sensual, but perhaps it's true nature will only be revealed at the moment it devours me." Those contradiction abound in Latin America but it seems to me that what has devoured Anderson is his own bias, which seems evident throughout most of this book.