Pío Guerendiáin says farewell to his flap-hole at an awesome Running of the Bulls
Today was the last day that Pío Guerendiáin (Pamplona, 1946) was going to cover the Running of the Bulls from his flap-hole in Mercaderes. After spending half a century and one year behind this same flap. A privileged place from which to see the fighting bull face to face… without any danger. The fearful Miura this very day were doing their thing; one of them turned on a runner, creating scenes of panic. And there was Pio’s lens at the ready, just like every morning during Sanfermines, to capture the moment and to feel the awesome bang of the bulls as they crash against the wooden hoarding that protects him. This time, the person who has fallen in front of his cat-flap was an Australian. Three other Miura bulls got momentarily embedded in the hoarding which protects him from the Bulls.
A good-bye filled with emotion, which has given him a handful of awesome photos. He told us so himself as soon as today’s Running of the Bulls ended and before the arrival of the rest of the photographers working with sanfermin.com, with whom we have taken his photo. We shall miss him at the next Sanfermines, although we hope that he will continue to take some photos at the Running of the Bulls, in search of that unique exceptional photo that all the artists like him are continually searching for.
This is an odd year for you, a year of farewells.
Yes indeed. This is the last year in this place as users of premises which my family has been occupying with different businesses, ever since 1754, when my great-great-great-grandfather arrived here from the town of Guerendiáin. He was called Miguel Guerendiáin from Guerendiáin. Then the descendants came… with Lorenzo, Aledo, Tiburon, Pablo, myself, Pío, my son, my nephew and now my grandson. There have been eight generations since then.
From here you had a pretty unique view.
Yes indeed. It is a viewpoint very similar to that of the photographers who are on the corner of Mercaderes, between the two lines of fencing, with the added advantage that you see the complete curve of the horns of the Bulls. I take the snapshots right in front of them, I see their faces, how they approach and they see me and look at me. I have photos to prove it.
How do the Bulls look at you?
They stare at you. And they also glance as they pass by. When they pass the narrow big cat-flap they turn their eyes and look in. Do they see? Or don’t they see? They say that the Bulls are pretty short-sighted but maybe close up they see more. This year, one of them stuck his snout into the flap and it was pretty stunning.
You can observe them from a very close-up distance. How are they really?
You are looking at something very very powerful, with a huge strength that moves at an incredibly fast pace and which has tact and knows where it is exactly. The proof is that when that bull stuck its snout in the cat-flap, beside I have an iron column covered over in wood, where it lefts its mark. But the point of the horn was trying to get out, feeling its way, at a very fast speed. When a bull gores a matador, for example, it is said that the bullfighter has suffered a goring of X centimeters in depth. But we don’t know how much is the exit wound, because inside the point of the horn is not trying to gore more but rather get the thing off its horn and move on.
¿Do you continue to look through the camera in order to snap the photos?
No, by now I know the exact angle that the lens catches, and so I am looking from outside, which allows me to see the whole complete scene.
When the horn came through, did you touch it?
No, I was being very precautious and I couldn’t say how many seconds it was there… Perhaps just one…but you see it.
The first photo you ever took of the Running of the Bulls. Do you remember it? How old were you then?
Yes, indeed. I still have it. I took it from a balcony on the first floor in Estafeta because that first-floor apartment was also ours. That is where the aunts of the Guerendiáin lived, over the store below. That was in 1964 when I was 17 years old.
Where did this love for taking photos of the bullrunnings come from?
On the 13th of July, 1924, the Santa Coloma Bulls caught my father on the Mercaderes corner. He crashed against the pavement and he got a gash on his forehead that was there for the rest of his life and the bulls stepped on him with their hooves and they cut his biceps and an ear, which lay there sectioned as if it had been cut by a knife. It was sown back on and it cured itself without much problem. And the arm wound as well. What he had for the rest of his life was a curious allergy which appeared as a rash each year, just after Sanfermines. It was almost like a change of skin. Those same bulls later caught Esteban Domeño further up the Street. The first recorded death in the Running of the Bulls. My father, represented the Pamplona runners at the funeral. He attended it with his head and his arm in bandages. I have taken innumerable photos of people who have fallen in the Runnings. I have always been covering this stretch of the course and perhaps, unconsciously I have done it because of the story about my father. Who knows? Sergio Oksman made a very interesting short film on that anecdote, entitled “Notes on the other”.
Has the aesthetics changed much down the years?
yes, above all ,the quantity of people who run now. At that time, there were some people dressed as “pamplonicas” but not near as many as nowadays. Many people wore their street clothes, some to a greater or lesser extent, trying to be a bit sporty and of course, most of them ran in alpargatas (peasant footwear). In that way, with a lot less people, the bulls could see the fencing at the corner and take it like a formula1 car would do it, gauging their pace in the appropriate way. Most of the bulls adapted themselves to the house no. 2 in this street, the one which is in front of our building. .
This anti-sliding treatment which is now put on the pavement, has it affected the images?
Yes, indeed it has. The bulls no longer slip up as much as they used to, although they do still crash into the hoarding and fencing. Nevertheless, it has been effective.
¿Which is your favorite image from The Running of the Bulls?
The photographers who, like me, don’t have a fixed media outlet to sell their photos to, are looking for that utopic spectacular photo, an image that is more beautiful and more different than any other. We are searching for this utopic photo every day. Even though I have 50 years of experience, I continue to think that I still have not found it. The reality is that we take photos at the moment we have to take them and, in my case, I am sitting on a chair, looking at the Bulls approaching in front of me and I am sitting calm and still like Don Tancredo.
Does the hoarding withstand the impact of the bulls?
Up to now it has always protected me perfectly well. And even when they give you a hard bang, and even sometimes several bulls together, the smell of the bull is very strong, I just get down on one knee on the ground and my shoulder does not touch the wooden boarding. In my photos you can see how the bulls are coming on me. They are going to graze me where I have the camera and even my hand and I have to pull back so as not to be dragged by the bull. In the end it sees the rim of the frame of the little window.
Whose idea was it to paint the hoarding?
During the agitated period of the transition, there was a lot of graffiti on this wooden hoarding which was spoiling it a lot. It occurred to me that maybe reproducing the niche of the saint could make it nice and the people might respect it more. I asked Patxi Marcilla to Paint it and this is the result. I asked him to paint the bandanas of all the Peña clubs, with their coat-of-arms and the motifs of the Giants and their Entourage..
How did the idea come to you to make the cat-flap?
In 1991, as a result of having to do a documentary about the Running of the Bulls, the cat-flap was made to allow filming from there. The Meca people approved that action and since then I have used to take my photos from here. .
Do you think that black and white photos make for better ones in the Running of the Bulls?
the abstraction of color gives a greater sense of permanence in time to the image…another one of our utopias. When you think you have taken a photo which will be timeless, you realize that the hairstyle, the outfits, etc. all change a lot and so makes the image very easy to place. ..
Have any of your photos become permanent?
perhaps one photo, which, in its day, won several prizes, including the prestigious Negtor in 1972. This is a photo of Paquirri, with cape all bloodied looking straight in front of him and with the head and horns of the bull enveloping him. The archetype of the matador has not changed much and that image will last.
Do you look more for the aesthetics or for the moment?
As I am not dependent on getting an image for a concrete media and which has to be given almost immediately, I can think more about the art of photography and I can try to get that timeless photo that will remain valid for ever. I am searching more for the emotion than the morbid curiosity of catching a goring.
¿What advice do you give to young photographers who come to take photos of the Sanfermines?
first of all, let them read up on the history of photography of Sanfermines. They should know about the work of some of the great photographers who have come here, Inge Morath, Cartier Bresson, Ramón Massats, Koldo Txamorro (whose photos have not been fully recognized, which is a great pity), Francisco Hidalgo, who worked for Paris Match, and a classic photographer such as Nicolás Ardanaz. Then, you also should have a photographic ethic, a previous preparation. For me, Photography is a Great Art you should endeavor to achieve a personalized streamlined collection of photos. A life-long work that will never be completed. And, of course, above all, work hard.
Have you never been tempted by the world of filming?
That is a different question…It’s a different language. Photography has more to do with literature and the cinema with the theater. Photography has an enormous power of evocation and each one of us sees which they have inside themselves to see themselves. In cinema, all that is done for you…you can analyze it and comment on it, but the author of a photo can give you the chance to take your own idea from it.
You won’t be coming back to the cat-flap. Will you be taking the hoarding with you?
For the moment, that is my intention. I would prefer to keep it and maybe the triptych could be put in some office or other or perhaps in my daughter’s house…
Don’t you feel sad about saying farewell to this place?
Yes indeed, but I am accepting it by and by because we have been trying to buy the property for years from the Government of Navarra but it has not been possible. It is not clear what the present owners will do with it. I have had the past few years and months to get used to the idea of the change. It is now another new period of time and I shall turn the page too and that’s that.