Bullfighter, Juan Serrano, "Finito de Cordoba", makes a pass on a bull in Plaza Monumental in Barcelona, Spain on 06 June, 2010. The Plaza Monumental is the only functioning bullring in Catalonia, and from 2012 it will no longer be used, after the Catalan parliament voted to outlaw bullfighting on 28 July. Image copyright Charlie Mahoney.
Based in Barcelona, Charlie Mahoney was in an excellent position to shoot a story on bullfighting when it became clear the Catalan parliament would vote on whether to ban it. On 28 July the ancient Spanish bloodsport was outlawed from 2012 on and the story went global, read as an assertion of regional independence as well as and indicator of changing attitudes towards animal welfare. Mahoney's images were published by the BBC, The Guardian and Time magazine. The BBC linked to a stills photo gallery on its News Online front page for the first time, and attracted more than 250,000 hits on the first day. BJP caught up with Mahoney to find out more about the project.
Q: When did you start the bullfighting story, and why?
A: I am based in Barcelona, and I started to work on the story after reading that the Catalan Parliament was considering prohibiting bullfighting. The story intrigued me because it has many complex layers to it. It’s not just an issue about bullfighting, it’s also related to Catalonia's independence movement. The bullfighting season began in May, so I started then and went to about five bullfights.
Q: Was it tough to take the images?
A: It was a very different and challenging experience for me, I'm used to getting close to my subjects and working with a wide-angle lens. I rarely shoot with a telephoto lens, but I had to in this situation because I had to stand behind a small wall in the run space just behind the main wall of the bullring. The rules are very strict and you can't move around freely while the bull is in the ring, so you have to be lucky to get a good angle and hope no one steps in front of you at a crucial moment. In a way, it's similar to shooting sports from set point on the sidelines.
But the most challenging aspect of the project was breaking away from the stereotypical images of bullfighting. Bullfighting as a subject has been done so many times, so I really tried to find points of view that moved away from the images we have all seen so many times.
Q: What kit did you use?
A: I worked with two cameras the entire time – the Canon 5D and the Canon 5D Mark II. On one I had a 24-70mm lens, on the other a 70-200mm with a 1.4x multiplier. I also worked with the 16-35mm and the 50mm f/1.8 in a few select moments.
Q: Was it hard to get access to the matadors?
A: No, I was working with a press accreditation, so access was not a problem during the bullfight. But before and after, it's very difficult. The bullfighters arrive in private cars already dressed, and when they get out of their cars get mobbed by people seeking autographs or wanting a photo with them. The little old ladies are the most dangerous as they get under you and just kind of push you out of the way.
Q: How did you get the images published in The Guardian, Time and the BBC?
A: I've published work previously in all three. In the case of the BBC I contacted them directly; I'm a contributor to Corbis and they made the sales to The Guardian and Time.
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