I took Olga to her first bull fight

‘Las proezas de Silveti’ by Edward Weston, 1926

It was on his sixteenth birthday in 1902 that pioneering photographer Edward Weston held his first camera—a Kodak Bull’s-Eye No. 2 given to him by his father that sparked his fascination with capturing the world around him, the style that developed eventually seeing him become the first photographer to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship. In July of 1923, Weston moved to Mexico, and it was there, in November, that he witnessed a bullfight for the first time—a spectacle both “cruel” and “electrifying” that became a regular pastime. In June of 1924 he took a friend, and her horror-stricken reaction is noted in his diary from that day, a shock which in turn leads him to question his own feelings towards the pageant. Despite these introspections, Weston found himself drawn back to the arenas, time and again, to witness these dramatic and barbaric displays.

The Diary Entry

Sunday. I took Olga to her first bull fight. Though I knew she would be shocked, I could not forsee the utter horror with which she viewed the spectacle. It was a bad beginning. The first bull charged a picador at once and it was a gory affray. Olga sat with her head sunk into her hands, moaning and trembling convulsive­ly. I pitied her more than the dying horse. I seemed to see momentarily the fight with her eyes and then became introspective. She said, looking at me in amaze­ment, “O, how can you call this beautiful. How can you return week after week to see this awful sight. I don’t understand you!” And I wondered about myself; is my reaction to the beautiful and dramatic so intense as to paralyze any other emotion? Or, in my present condition of disillusionment, am I drawn to this debauch of death for its symbolism? Or—is it indulgence in heretofore unreleased sadistic attributes? Or—do I watch with the eyes of a detached spectator of life who sees in El Toreo only another phase of that cruelty and indifference which surrounds and permeates and tinges nature crimson?

The fourth bull brought death to a novillero: he had killed the first bull in fine style, received acclaim and the band’s diana. But they try so hard, these novilleros, to please, to show their skill and daring, to win their spurs. He met the bull’s charge on his knees. He was caught and gored. He lay so quiet in the sand as the bull rushed over him towards the frantic capes which could not save him now. They carried him from the arena—his head stretched back.

Further Reading

Edward Weston began to keep a diary in 1917 and continued until 1934. In 1961, the first of two volumes was published by George Eastman House; the second arrived in 1966 courtesy of Aperture. In 1990, Aperture published both in a single volume, titled The Daybooks of Edward Weston, and it is from that stunning book that this entry has been excerpted, with permission. © Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents.

Thousands of Weston’s photographs can be viewed on the website of the Center for Creative Photography, maintained by The University of Arizona.

Edward Weston & Cole Weston Family Website

Edward Weston at Wikipedia.

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