As a child, the closest I could get to a real bullfight was the thrilling comic spectacle of “The Fireman Bullfighter and his Bullfighting Dwarves.” The show, which stars dwarf toreros, was created in the fifties by the burlesque impressario Pablo Celis who fought a bull in a fireman’s costume. Such acts have their origins in the 18th century when the comic interlude in bullfights, which often included dwarves, migrated from the street into Spain’s Hapsburg courts. A typical skit: the niños—the children, as the dwarf clowns were then called—are seated at a banquet table enjoying a sumptuous meal. Enter a bull.
Although the centerpiece of the Fireman and the Dwarves’ show is the corrida—a formal bullfight with a small bull who isn’t killed—most of the time the dwarves spend in the ring is devoted to clown acts. In the 1980s, there was a movement to stop “exploiting” dwarves in these spectacles. But los pequeños—the little ones, as the dwarves prefer to be called—resisted the ban, which would have deprived them of their livelihoods and the reputations they had built as toreros.
Bullfighters, even comic ones, enjoy a heroic glamour in Spain. For the bullfight, the dwarves change into the traditional trajes de luces, the toreadors’ “suits of light” that were originally designed by Goya. During the corrida, the audience is tense and respectfully quiet. After the corrida, children throng the bullfighters’ entrance hoping to get autographs.
My friend, the Andalusian photographer Nicolas Haro, began his career taking pictures of chairs in his father’s furniture factory with a Rolleiflex. He is interested in distinctly regional passions that often go undocumented and are unknown to the larger world. When I first suggested the idea of photographing los pequeños, Nicolas was apprehensive. He worried about offending them by appearing voyeuristic. But when we entered the locker room at the show last spring in La Linea de la Concepción, just miles from the Rock of Gibraltar, it was immediately clear that Jimmy Vidales (el matador), Armando Rodriguez (picador), Jimmy Muñoz (picador) and Johnson (banderillo) were eager to be seen. The troupe performs sixty or seventy shows a year, traveling to Portugal, France, and South America, and during their off-season, some of them, who have the muscular bodies of professional athletes, make money as strippers. They welcomed Nicolas to record not only their extraodinaryness as bullfighters, but their ordinariness. Nicolas found them to be “valiant,” a word that is more commonly used in Spanish.