Testing angels at the Pamplona bull run
By Vincent West
Yes, the fish are dead, and they are obviously painted, thus objects of aesthetic contemplation.
– Alberto Rey
That may or may not be the sort of thing that springs to mind when you are lying in bed at 3.30am, sweating, and imagining ways to chop the cable of the sound system that sends throbbing bass pulses through the walls of the hotel. One thing is certain however; you will be wondering and worrying about how today’s “encierro” will turn out. It’s why we are here. Ever since Hemingway’s Bill Gorton declared “These basques are swell people”, increasing numbers of unwary visitors have flocked to Pamplona to see whether or not the angels are on their side. They test it every morning at eight o’clock, from the seventh to the fourteenth of July.
The “we” in question are four photographers (there used to be more but you know how it is). Eloy Alonso, cider and civil war expert, an excellent photographer with a talent for polemic, Susana Vera, by far the most responsible of the group with a sharp eye for beautiful and creative pictures, Joseba Etxaburu, a lucky, happy, firefighter and motorbiker whose record for dramatic, often gory and distinctive images of the San Fermin festival is renowned and Vincent West, about whom perhaps the least said the better.
The “encierro” is a 825m (900 yards) dash from the corral to the bullring that takes an average of three minutes, where six fighting bulls vie for limited space with the brave and the stupid and where you see photojournalism at its most bloody and gratuitous. Stripped of all pretension, our images at times provide the vicarious thrill of witnessing the bloody mangling of a runner at the horns of a 600kg animal born and built to kill. If you thought about it for too long, you probably wouldn’t do it.
But we are photographers, so we don’t, and the rest of the day is spent with a fairly open agenda captioning, editing and roaming the festival on the lookout for good stuff. At 18.30 one of us will head off to the bullring to record Spain’s national sport. Having led a life most people would envy, the bull is subjected to a series of taunts and abuses that only the true aficionado can see in the light of sport.
Nights are spent editing, reveling or otherwise, photographing fireballs and fireworks, complaining bitterly about bosses and prices, and doing the bonding that is so important to preserving cohesion within the group. We meet up with staff from AFP, EFE, and AP and talk about broken remotes, sheer luck, boycotts and plots and hope to be not too unlucky tomorrow. The last person we photographed was gored, erroneously identified as a woman, and dumped by his girlfriend all on the same day.