Every year at this time we are greeted (bombarded?) by images of the “running of the bulls.” One cannot help but feel sorry for the bulls, who seriously would rather be anywhere else. This fails to mention the point that these primitive mythic games, shades of the Minoan Minotaur and Pablo Picasso, invariably do not work out well for the bovine participants. Also one cannot help but exclaim something to the effect of “what morons!”
Still, I was struck today by this particularly bizarre photograph by Jesus Diges of EPA/Landov from Aug. 15, 2013, showing the traditional El Pilon bull run at Falces, Spain honoring of the Virgin of Nieva*. The El Pilon bull run, as can be seen, is held on a very treacherous hill. Runners have to avoid the bulls on an 800-meter long narrow slope with the mountain on one side and a rather steep cliff on the other.
I pondered a bit, as to what makes this image work against a myriad of other “running of the bulls” pictures. I think that the first two points that catch your eye are the blood-red shirts and the lone bull, careening down the hill. The red is important because like someone thrilled by an aerialist performing without a net, there is an aspect of perverted voyeurism in all of this! The broken diagonal of the path creates a dramatic interest. Indeed, the composition of the photograph is very well done. The dust tossed up by the bulls and the panicking runners creates a wonderful sense of motion. The precarious foothold of the observers presents a sense of real danger. Note in particular the photographer leaning dangerously over the edge to photograph the scene. Also, I find appealing the way the foreground is sharply in focus, while the lone bull and the background fades just slightly to out of focus. The one aspect that throws the image off is the fellow in the red shirt, who prods the bulls with a rather large stick. You realize with that, that absent this sadistic, mischievous fellow, the bulls might just stop and graze peacefully on the surrounding grass. Still, when I first saw this gore-geous image, an immediate caption came to mind. “Uh, oh!”
*Tradition has it that in 1392 the Virgin Mary appeared to a young shepherd, Peter Amador Vázquez, at this spot in Falces.