What’s Photographing A Bullfight Like? Mikkel Bache Answers

This week at LearnMyShot.com we are focusing on documentary photography, one of the most exciting and emotionally stimulating methods of storytelling. With this exclusive interview with Danish photographer Mikkel Bache, we hope to bring insight into the world of documentary photography, and the colorful world of Spanish bullfights.

Below is unique footage from Mikkel’s project documenting bullfights in Sevilla, Spain, titled “End of the Beginning,” and the story – from the artist’s perspective – on how it came to be.

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On his first visit to Sevilla, Spain.

“Back in 1999 I worked in a photo studio, and there was a Spanish girl working there. She was talking about how every April in Sevilla, there’s a party in the city going on. It sounded really interesting. At that time, a friend of mine and my girlfriend went along with this Spanish girl to Sevilla. And there, I had the chance to see it; I’d never seen anything more fun, at all.  I had the chance to go in and see it. I was, by the first second, very caught in it. It was just incredible.”

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On the name: “End of the Beginning”

“Well, the first time I was there was in 1999, and then went on for a couple years talking about the photography project, and talking about my ideas. It’s a little bit difficult to explain just like that – but everything is round. The arena, where the bullfight is taking place, is round. And the buildings around it are circular as well. And every bullfight is exactly the same routine: everything has to start exactly at 6:30, a fight has to take no more than 15 minutes, and inside the fight it’s divided into circular parts that have certain names. Everything is exactly the same. People have the same routines, coming and waiting in front of the arena at the same time; people are meeting up with friends at the same time and places. Yesterday looks exactly like today, and today looks exactly like tomorrow.”

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“I’ve been meeting up with a lot of Spanish people, there, of course, and they told me the matadors are sort of the fathers of the bull. The bull is the son of the matador, who is the father. Everything is like a circle, life in death is like a circle; my project doesn’t have to start at the beginning – it could start at the end, as well.”

Do you feel you are part of the bullfighting culture, or outside of it?

“It’s a little bit difficult to answer yes or no to that. Both, I think. I still look at myself as a guy from the cold north, you know, Scandinavia, trying to be part of something I don’t understand at all. I’m attached to it, but I don’t know anything about it. Even though I’ve been coming repeatedly, I mean, of course I know people down there, and I am very much fascinated by it. I think maybe in a former life I’ve been living in Spain, or whatever southern part of Europe. I’m really some sort of a character down there, bringing my analogue cameras each year and my tripod. It’s a very enclosed thing; I had a chance because I know someone who knows someone.”

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“It just took a telephone call from my friend, Eduardo, to enter the arena — the first time. But since then I’ve been working very very much, repeatedly coming back, and giving portraits to people, printing them out, handing over pictures from last year – “here you are again, here’s a picture!” I’ve been working my way into it. Because it’s so enclosed, and they are so afraid you are trying to make a bad picture of the bullfight. It’s a constant struggle to get closer and closer. So of course I’m a part of it, but also outside of it.”

How many years have you been working on this?

“Since 1999 – and then there was a big break. I think the next time was 2007, and then from 2007 every year until this year (2013). Seven years now in a row, and then 1999. So, eight years. For sure, I do intend to go back, but I don’t think – I mean, the pictures you’ve seen are just a little part of it. Just yesterday and the day before I scanned new negatives from last year, and this year I only shot digital, actually. At this point, I can’t find new ways into it. Now I have to end it, and make it into a book or something. I will go back, but thats more because I know the people there. They recognize me every year.”

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On shooting film, and post-processing:

“My main motives from the beginning were film, with a travel camera. I have tons and tons of film. I scan them with a special tone, then work with color balances, but not editing or putting pictures together. It’s like documentary, advertising, art – it has to be the picture itself. I’m not faking anything.”

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On inspiration and documentary photography.

“I think that to me, I mean, sure I’m technical photographer, but I’m not really in a studio and putting up blinds – I like to go out, I like to meet people, and I like to capture the general feelings between me and a person, model, or thing. Or to document the intimacy and feelings in other people. If I can capture that, it’s very eye opening. I think that’s my touch. No matter if it’s in the bullfight project or an advertising campaign, it’s all based on me bringing on some human feelings, I think. So that’s very inspiring.  People are inspiring to go out and meet, and shoot.”

Cigar Smoker at Bull Fight

On turning “The Beginning of the End” into a book and exhibition.

“The best part is to be there and shoot, but my project now is ready to end. I have to tighten this up and finish it, make a book out of it, and an exhibition. I have to bring it to some european cultural level, to a european community, to show how the difference is in Europe. that’s a project in itself. So I have to finish that before I start something completely new.”

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“It’s been a long, long project. I haven’t made any photo books before, so it is new territory – but the bullfight is not; there have been a lot of books on this subject. My book has to be different, somehow. I have to make it really clear I am not an expert, it’s important for me personally that this is a new perspective. It has to be really, really good before I publish.”

What advice would you have for aspiring photographers?

“Well, I think they have to trust whatever they feel that they have to do. I mean, it might take some years, but they will figure out at some point that maybe they have been walking the wrong path, or the wrong way. You really have to believe in what you feel. It’s not all fancy and fashion. I think that people have to just keep going and working, and believing that some time they will succeed. They have to believe in themselves, and keep going. Don’t walk the same way that everyone else is walking – it’s a boring way.”69

As you can tell, Mikkel Bache’s photography is a product of years of work and entrenchment in a foreign culture, in which he made a place and name for himself, and produced beautiful and communicative art. The resulting photographs are very telling to the intimacy of human emotion, and the culture surrounding bullfighting events in Sevilla. His story also proves that documentary photography is more than simply taking pictures – it’s going out there, making friends, and actively involving yourself in the situation you are documenting. If you want to see more of “End of the Beginning” and other work, check out his Mikkel’s website here.

What do you think of Mikkel Bache’s photography? Have any documentary photography of your own to share? Let us know in the comments. 

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