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Bulls, Brandy, Shopping Malls and Cultural Identity

May 4, 2014

This post was inspired by theme #18 for the 52 in 2014 challenge I am participating in. The theme was Hard to Handle (which I always knew as a Black Crowes song, but it turns out it was originally by Otis Redding).  I was trying to connect the theme with one of the pictures I had from my recent trip to Spain.  Bulls are part of the cultural identity of Spain, and reference to them was frequent during my visit. I think bulls qualify as pretty hard to handle.  So I’m using that as my theme entry, and also taking the opportunity to share some bull-related items from my trip (no pun intended!).

This shot is of one of the iconic Osborne bulls:

Hard to Handle

Nikon D90, 18-200 lens with polarizing filter Edited in LR and onOne Perfect B&W

Courtesy of our trip’s tour director, this New York Times article, and this Wikipedia site, here is the brief history of these bulls:

They were billboards erected in 1956 by the Osborne Sherry Company to advertise their brandy.  A 1994 law was passed in Spain banning roadside advertising, and therefore they had to be removed.  However, many people liked them and considered them to be an important part of Spanish popular culture and part of their cultural heritage. They were painted black, hiding all advertising, and after the typical court battles, it was determined that they could stay.  The image is now common on many items in Spain.  I saw many of them on the road between Madrid and Barcelona – the above shot was taken from the moving bus as we went by.

In Madrid, we were taken to see the Plaza de Toros, one of the active bullrings in Madrid.  The architecture can be traced back to the Roman amphitheaters.  We had a brief visit to the exterior, so these are a couple of my “I was there” shots:

Plaza de Toros 2

Nikon D90, 18-200 lens Edited in LR

Plaza de Toros

In the autonomous community of Catalonia, which contains Barcelona,  bullfighting was banned in 2010. Given the tension regarding Catalonian independence, this was not universally accepted. There is an effort underway to make bullfighting protected under Spanish law, thereby overriding the ruling in Catalonia.  Barcelona had two bullrings, only one of which is still available. The other one, Las Arenas, was turned into a thoroughly western-style shopping mall. The beautiful external architecture was preserved, but the inside unfortunately looks like just about any mall I’ve ever been to.  I didn’t bother to take any interior shots, as it was just a shopping mall. The one saving grace is that they put an outside walkway/observation deck on the roof which offers great views of Barcelona and the Plaça d’Espanya.  I hope to be posting one or more of the shots I took from up there.

Las Arenas

Nikon D90 with 18-200 lens Edited in LR

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From → Photography

  1. Great story, I personally am against Bullfighting. If it was one man armed with two knives (No longer than the Bull’s horns) it could be considered a fair fight Otherwise not my cup of whiskey!


  2. Thank you for the cultural information. I really like the B&W shot of the bull. It’s striking. I was surprised to see it was taken in Spain. One might easily see a scene like that in the Western US.


    • The B&W processing and the specific cropping does make it look like it could be out in the Western U.S. However, if I showed the color version with a less tight crop, the landscape is quite different.


  3. I like the way your story starts with the black and white silhouette of the bull and continues on with a bit of history of bull fighting.


  4. Julie permalink

    I really enjoyed reading this post, Andy. I love that you included so much background information on the shots. The story of the bull advertising signs is fascinating and the bullring buildings are beautiful. I’m not quite sure which one, but Las Arenas reminds me of one of the vintage ball parks in the US.


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