Testing angels at the Pamplona bull run

July 16, 2010

By Vincent West

Yes, the fish are dead, and they are obviously painted, thus objects of aesthetic contemplation.
Alberto Rey

Runners lead a Jandilla fighting bull into the bullring during the last running of the bulls of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona July 14, 2010.  REUTERS/Joseba Etxaburu

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.

Jandilla fighting bulls run past a runner at Estafeta corner during the ninth running of the bulls of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona July 14, 2010.   REUTERS/Vincent West

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.

A reveler is tossed by a heifer bull during festivities in the bull ring after the third running of the bulls at the San Fermin festival in Pamplona July 9, 2010.  REUTERS/Joseba Etxaburu

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.

A fighting cow leaps over revelers during festivities in the bullring after the second running of the bulls at the San Fermin festival in Pamplona July 8, 2010.  REUTERS/Joseba Etxaburu

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.

Spanish bullfighter Miguel Angel Perera reacts after killing a bull during the last bullfight of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona July 14, 2010. REUTERS/Susana Vera

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.

Alonso Ceardi, a 23 year-old Chilean runner (in blue), is gored by a Jandilla fighting bull at Telefonica corner during the ninth running of the bulls of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona July 14, 2010.   REUTERS/Eloy Alonso
A couple sit on a bench bathed in light filtered through trees during early morning at the San Fermin festival in Pamplona July 13, 2010. REUTERS/Vincent West


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If you want know more and more about the running of the bulls, you can visit the “Encierro Museum” (the running of the bulls Museum) recently opened at Pamplona.


Hope to see you soon!

Posted by EncierroMuseum | Report as abusive

Hi there,

I was wanting to contact Photographer Vincent West in relation to the photgraphs he took that are shown here: http://designyoutrust.com/2012/03/travel -to-esco-an-abandoned-village-in-spain how do I do that?

Thanks Rich
Richard Williams
Bathurst Australia

Posted by richwill | Report as abusive

Hola!I am from Canada and I would just like to saa big thank you to Vincent West who captured a most comedic picture of me at my finest, under an ATM after three days of non-stop fiesta in Pamplona.
The fellow with whom I am exchanging a peck is from Me Mexico, and we met two days prior on a bus on the way to the event.
As the photographer cleverly captured, the legs sticking out from beneath are neither mine, nor the Mexicans but his cousin`s. The poor thing was freezing and chattering away so we were either trying to smuther him or keep him warm! Thanks again for capturing this moment!
What are the chances, out of the millions of photographs of San Fermin, that I would find this one!

Posted by Catalina2012 | Report as abusive