Photographers' Blog

Prime position for a bullfight

By Reuters Staff
August 27, 2010

by Jon Nazca

Spanish banderiller Pedro Muriel is gored by a bull during a bullfight at the Malagueta bullring in Malaga August 22, 2010. Banderillers are bullfighter's assistants whose role is to weaken the bull's massive neck and shoulder muscles using harpoon pointed sticks known as banderillas (little flags). Muriel was gored in the right thigh but his wound is not serious, said his manager Ignacio Gonzalez to the magazine Mundotoro. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

It’s Sunday, and the last bullfight of the week.  People from Malaga are exhausted from so many days of fiesta and bulls. There isn’t much traffic around the bullring so I get there earlier than other days.

The temperature is a suffocating heat and not too many people are there yet, only a few brave souls sitting in the stands waiting for the bullfight.

I take my time, I’m a little more relaxed than other days, and try and take some pictures of people in the stands.  My attention is directed at three women, who appear to be from another region.  An old man waits, looking impatiently at his watch.  I direct my attention to him, as he sits surrounded by so many numbers painted on the stands.

People wait for the start of a bullfight at the Malagueta bullring in Malaga August 22, 2010. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

These are not good times for bullfighting, at least in Catalonia, where the regional government voted last month to prohibit bullfights as of  2012.  But here, in Malaga, tradition rules and the spectators swarm to the fair each year to enjoy the spectacle.

It’s 7:00 pm, everything gets underway.  I take my position in the ring to shoot some pictures of the bullfighters and their assistants being presented in the ring. Intense concentration and seriousness is reflected on their faces.  No one present knows what is about to unfold.  In a certain way, it is reminiscent of gladiators preparing for a fight, being presented to the spectators hungry for a spectacle.

Spanish bullfighters and their assistants walk in the arena before a bullfight at the Malagueta bullring in Malaga August 22, 2010. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

I hurry to my next shooting position, a barrier behind the bullfighters alley.  If a bull were to jump over the barrier I would be safe here.

Everything goes to plan.  I am sitting next to six other local photographers.  One of them tells me, with a certain anxiety, that he has to transmit pictures during the bullfight and he is scared that he might miss a picture while editing.  I have a habit of shooting the first three bullfights of the afternoon from this position.  For the next three, I usually run up to the stands, and from there shoot the rest with a 300mm or 135mm lens. But this afternoon is different.  The fifth bull runs out and I rush to go up…

I have a preference for photographs shot from above, they are cleaner, with a clear background.

A horse mounted by a picador is seen next to a bull during a bullfight at the Malagueta bullring in Malaga August 22, 2010. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

Reaching the highest area of the bullring seems impossible.  The bull is already in the ring and I am still not in place.  I take a spot in the first place I can find, and it happens to be the VIP area of the bullring.  The VIP’s look at me a bit strangely, since photographers are not allowed there.  I have to block a waiter with a tray full of drinks trying to get by, but until there’s a pause in the action I can’t afford to move. As soon as I can, I grab a spot in another balcony, this time a private one.  Fortunately there aren’t too many spectators in this one.  I don’t have my monopod and I am handholding my camera and lens which starts to become tiring.

The “Banderillero” comes into the ring.  His job is to weaken the bull by stabbing it in the neck with “Banderillas” which are essentially long colored harpoons with razor-sharp tips.

Pedro Muriel, decked out in a silver and purple bullfighters suit, comes in close to the bull but fails to lodge the “Banderillas” in its neck.  He runs away quickly, but just when he thinks he is a safe distance away, the bull surprises him and traps him against the barrier.  The spectators rise to their feet and start shouting.  Right at that spot there are the six local photographers. They lose the chance to make any pictures as they are way too close with their 70-200’s.  Besides, what should they do? Take the picture or try and help the Banderillero? Six seconds must seem like an eternity in which the Banderillero is at the mercy of the bull and even if he can escape, he can’t avoid being gored in his right thigh.  Fortunately, he was able to walk to the bullring infirmary on his own two feet. He was not critically wounded.

Spanish banderiller Pedro Muriel is gored by a bull after driving banderillas into it during a bullfight at the Malagueta bullring in Malaga August 22, 2010. Banderillers are bullfighter's assistants whose role is to weaken the bull's massive neck and shoulder muscles using harpoon pointed sticks known as banderillas (little flags). Muriel was gored in the right thigh but his wound is not serious, said his manager Ignacio Gonzalez to the magazine Mundotoro.  REUTERS/Jon Nazca

The photographer, who a few hours earlier had raised concerns about missing a picture while transmitting, was caught out looking at his screen at the precise moment the action unfolded.   Bad luck compañero, maybe next time…

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