The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Death in the Afternoon

The title of this post is of course that famous book, Death In The Afternoon by Earnest Hemingway.

It is good for me that the few Spanish bullfighting pics I have in my files are still generating interest and sales. Recently dug out and tidied-up the slide above for a potential collector of corrida images. It is especially good for me because I took these pictures at a time when I was less serious about photography and my gear was not as professional as it is now. They were shot on 400asa Sensia slide film pushed to 800asa to get the action.This meant they were however very grainy, on top of being a bit soft already as they were shot through the glass of a cheaper Canon 300mm lens. Not ideal for the quality I set myself these days. I would love to go back and shoot them on digital now, but then again, I wouldn’t.

Bullfighting is a cruel and unnecessary sport. A fact many Spaniards think themselves, a Gallup poll in 2002 found 68.8% of Spanish people having no interest what-so-ever in the spectacle.  The Canary islands became the first Spanish province to ban the sport in 1991 and in 2010 the autonomous government of Catalonia passed a bill, which came into effect this year, banning bullfighting in the whole region, including the capital Barcelona.

For myself I am in two minds about the sport as I have written before, such cruelty is not something I can condone and yet the culture of the events seems so essential to Spanish identity in a way that fox-hunting for the English or whaling for the Japanese  are not. Both those pursuits are essentially exclusionary, and not enjoyed by the whole population as bull-fighting historically was, but are limited to appropriate social classes, occupations or limited locality.

The top matadors in the past were like the famous football-players of these days: wealth and women being the rewards of their perfornmances. Young boys wanted to grow up to be Toreros. Some young women too. The matador pictured above is Christina Sanchez, one of only a few women to make it onto the professional bull-fighting circuit. I watched her fight in Zamora in 1997 and saw her repeatedly fail to quickly and compassionately kill the bulls. She was just not strong enough to drive the sword in and the bull suffered a lot. This was my second bullfight and it was a small bullring where I could sit close and feel the fear and smell the blood. It was not a pleasant experience to say the least and yet…the Toreros are still amazingly colourful and arrogantly photogenic and it was great to make images of them. Hopefully this anachronism will disappear soon, but I would love to shoot it a bit more before it does, where my lens is sharper, by grain (noise) is finer and I understand a bit more the significance and direction of what I am photographing. Perhaps I would want my images to show the pain and the blood a bit more than the touristy-type shots I took before. Like the phlegm, snot and dust flying in the image above the desperate messiness of the fight would be looked for now and I hope my images would not be easy to look at though I hope they would be beautiful too. Just as Jeremy Sutton Hibbert has done with his whaling images here.

Anyway, rainy day so working on the web a bit.

Talk soon.

Damon

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