It is Day 3 of the Colete Encarnado 2022, or the bull run festival in Vila Franca de Xira. Quite frankly, the more I experience this festival the less I like it. Friday evening, just as I suspected, I got stuck in the thick of things on the way home from work. I got back to Vila Franca alright, but could not access my building until an hour later because everything was baricaded and the bull run had begun.
I asked the police whether I stood any chance of crossing the tracks and the road to get into the safety of my home, and pointed to where I needed to go, but he shook his head and told me to wait 30 minutes more, when the bulls and horses were all back in their corrals. For this event it seems they dragged in the tallest policemen in the Portuguese force they could find because this was the first time I actually had to crane my neck to speak to them. The regular Vila Franca squad are all at a comfortable eye level, but these guys were one level below SWAT, and of course had the height to go with it. All the first responders were out in full force, and after five minutes of being stuck in this mad crowd, I understood why.
I eventually got into the building but sleep was impossible because of the dancing and the live concerts that went on after the bull run. Thank goodness of noise cancelling headphones! I managed to grab a few winks somehow, but was incredibly groggy the next morning. By the time the afternoon rolled around, I was fit for an evening of photography again, but this time from the safety of my balcony, since I am located along the main route of the events. Never have I loved and hated my apartment so much! I get to be in the thick of the action without being at ground zero, not only because of my fear of crowds, but also in terms of COVID safety. Portugal is very lax as far as prevention is concerned, having lifted the mandatory use of masks at the end of May, and as you will see from the images that follow, nobody really gives a shit anymore about the masks unless you take public transportation or enter public administration buildings. And then they wonder why the numbers are climbing…
In any case, the Colete Encarnado is a festival where I have concluded that I will not repeat ever again. I grew up with bull fighting in Mexico and never really learned to appreciate it back then, and the older I get, the more intolerant I am of it. I had the bull run in Pamplona on my bucket list for years, but this version took care of that. I definitely don’t need to go to Pamplona anymore after this experience! On the one hand, it is a great opportunity for street photography, but the ethics behind the rest of the festiva involving the bulls is something I cannot uphold or agree with.
It begins with a herd of bulls and a squadron of riders with spears galloping through the streets, and then eventually make their way back to the enclosed areas where they are kept. Then individual bulls are set loose among designated street for the crowds to taunt and then run away from. If the bull is tired, confused or unwilling to be the aggressive crowd pleaser people expect him to be, then there are designated people armed with umbrellas no less, to taunt the poor animal:
The bull is “confined” to a small area at a time in order to contain the chaos, and the bull to “attack” the crowds for a longer time. What this means is people on both sides of the barriers placing themselves in harms way, or waving something at the bull to provoke it. For the adrenaline junkies, the thrill is jumping back over the fence just in time while the bull rams into the wooden barricade.
There are moments the camera lens captures that inevitably determine when it is time to walk away. This was the moment:
When I saw the blood dripping from the bull’s horns, I called it a day, documentary photography be damned.
All photographs ©FrogDiva Photography