Bullfighting is an ancient and controversial sport. Bullfighting as most of us know it  - wherein three matadors go up against six bulls - probably originated in Spain but is popular in several other countries, and is practiced in various incarnations in other parts of the world. Since the 18th Century, the bulls used in Spanish bullfighting as bred so as to be particular aggressive. Bullfighting is considered a kind of dance, as it is a spectacle that requires deft footwork and costume. In his 1932 book Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway declared bullfighting “the only art in which the artist is in danger of death.” Controversial for obvious reasons, bullfighting has faced large-scale criticism in recent years, even in Spain. Catalonia, for example, banned bullfighting in the region in 2012. The Bullfights folder in the SVA Pictures Collection is notably thick and packed with particularly gorgeous images of bullfights. There is something about a spectacle of violence that lends itself particularly well to art, which is probably why artists of all kinds have been fascinated with it for aeons. Many of the bullfighting images in the folder are, however, oddly serene. Despite their content, they aren’t violent photographs. The matadors are frozen in arabesques. The bulls, suspended in motion, have a kind of iconographic appeal. In images, bullfighting evokes dance far more than, for example, hunting. Looking through the folder, one is invited to consider the relationship between violence and beauty, as well as the ethics of spectacle and representation.

A group of people wearing red neck scarves run beside bulls in an enclosed track.
Close up of a man's side. He is shirtless and wearing tweed pants. A large scar is visible on his side.
A bullfighter in full regalia flashes a piece of red cloth near a bull's face.
A bullfighter cheers in a ring beside a dead bull. The bull is upside down, his hoofs in the air, bleeding out.
A blurry image of a bullfighter and bull in motion.
Three bullfighters in full regalia look off into the distance.
A black and white image of a bullfighter being charged by a bull.
Black & White Magazine Issue 51 June 2007
A bullfighters steps steps away from a charging bull.
A shot of a bullfighter and a bull in a ring. The crowd is visible in the stands.
Wide shot of a packed stadium observing a bullfighter and bull in a yellow ring.
National Geographic
Two couples in traditional Spanish clothing ride horses in a bullfighting ring.
A bullfighter leans over towards muleta held in his right hand. The bull charges.
April 12 1998
A bullfighter lunges towards a bull.
"Bullfight" by Peter Buckley 1956
A bullfighter stands victorious over the corpse of a bull. The stands are packed with crowds of observers.
Peter Buckley 1956
A bullfighter's muleta is airborne from the force of being spun away from a charging bull.
Peter Buckley 1956
A bullfighter and bull stand parallel to one another facing away from the camera.
Peter Buckley 1956
Bullfighters take a moment to pray before a fight in their changing room.
National Geographic 2009
Three bullfighters with one arm, respectively, in a sling, walk across a ring. A small crowd looks on.
Poster for the 1956 film Bullfight featuring a bullfighter thrown into the air by a charging bull.
Dir. Pierre Braunberger