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Rio: The ‘perfect Shakespeare stage’

Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey teamed up with his son to create an interactive book that captures the vibrant energy of Rio de Janeiro.

Harvey considers the city the “perfect Shakespeare stage.” And on that stage, he tells a personal story embedded in a journalistic narrative. Images shot over 2½ years flood the unbound pages.

Titled “(based on a true story),” Harvey says the book was inspired by the likes of Hunter S. Thompson, David Lynch and the Coen brothers.

The story is told in pieces, with half of one photograph placed next to half of another. As the pages are turned or slid out, the other part of the image reveals previously unseen details, characters and context.

“Every time I look through the book – and I look through it a lot – I see new relationships,” said Harvey’s son, Bryan Harvey.

Don’t look for text to explain what’s happening or what it all means. Harvey hopes the images will speak for themselves.

Bryan, who designed the book, said it was created to reflect the immersive nature of the images. Viewers may begin to question their initial impressions when they realize the entire story isn’t told at first glance.

“It would ruin it to tell what the story really is,” Harvey said, refusing to fully describe the content of the anecdote.

As a filmmaker, Bryan sees movies as an extension of photography. Contact sheets included in the book show the photos taken before and after the selected images, like the frames of a motion picture.

While the book shows what someone might experience during a day in Rio, it’s also slightly autobiographical. “There are some personal references,” Harvey said. “Moments that trigger some memory. There’s always a mirror in there.”

His son describes the book as “more personal and all about blurring the lines between documentary and fantasy.”

The project was financed in part by daily behind-the-scenes videos shot during Harvey’s last month in Rio and offered for a one-time fee of “a buck 99.” The handcrafted limited-edition book is now available, selling for $120.

“It was a cool opportunity to do something different that hadn’t been seen in a book before,” Bryan said.

- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN

Watch a video demo of the book. David Alan Harvey’s Rio work will also be featured in the October issue of National Geographic.

Portrait courtesy Rob Clark, New York.