It’s the most controversial image in my portfolio. People don’t like it and most have no qualms telling me so. If I had a nickel for each time someone told me what an awful person I was for using it in my work, I’d have at least $20.
Trust me, the criticism can really sting but I won’t pull the image from my work. It’s one of my favorites because of the story behind it…a story that the drive-by objectors never stick around to hear.
I took the photo during the Summer of 2001. I traveled to Spain to study at the Universidad de Salamanca. It was an incredible time to be submerged in such an intense and passionate culture. A group from my school had the opportunity to spend time learning how to become novillos, or novice bullfighters. I was one of them. The image is of my teacher showing us the geometry of a pass.
No banderillas. No blood. Just magenta and gold capes and three generations of family yelling “brush off!” when I got knocked down into the dirt. I was also the only person brave enough to show what they had learned in the ring at the end of the day. The minutes seemed like hours but I completed three proper passes. I bowed to the young bull and walked back to my seat. End of story.
Once at a show in Boston, I noticed an older man staring at the image. He walked up to me with much difficulty and quietly asked if I took the photo. When I answered yes, he told me that he had been a bullfighter when he was young but was badly injured, hence the difficulty walking. I thanked him for sharing his story and told mine. I finished by saying that he was probably the only person besides me who liked the image. He touched my arm and said, “Forget them. It’s your work.”
Every time since then when someone makes a negative comment about the photo, I remember what the man said to me. I don’t condone the sport of bullfighting but I do understand its cultural significance. It’s mesmerizing, dangerous, and stirs up a major amount of controversy. Still, I don’t judge another culture based on my own. Whether I agree with it or not, I make sure to be thoughtful and considerate about such a delicate subject.