Running of the bulls

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.

This entry was posted in Reviews and Critiques.


  1. Marilyn Fuss August 20, 2013 at 6:39 am #

    Oh, hell. It’s so horrifying just as it is such a piercingly beautiful, fabulously composed picture. Jeez, there is no justice.

  2. David August 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    Marilyn, I think that ultimately there can be no justification for torturing animals for pleasure, even if it celebrates our mythic past. We seek composition even in the most horrific war documentary images, but they remain just as troubling. We seem to justify these “running of the bull” images with the mistaken sense that somehow the playing field is even – both bulls and runners have bovine intellects. But it really isn’t equal at all.

  3. Paul Rubinstein August 20, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    Striking photo. It looks like an exciting way to become an organ donor for the nitwit observers.

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