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AP PHOTOS: Pamplona's festival, the fiesta of a lifetime

AP PHOTOS: Pamplona's festival, the fiesta of a lifetime

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PAMPLONA, Spain (AP) — Even 20 years after I first started covering the San Fermin running of the bulls festival in Pamplona, Spain for The Associated Press, the same sense of anticipation haunts me on the eve of July 6. The night before the launching of the "Chupinazo" rocket that kick-starts the festival is always one of sleeplessness and more than a few jitters.

A small city like Pamplona, with its narrow, winding streets, is transformed in a matter of 24 hours. A sometimes overwhelming tide of people, most dressed in white clothing and red neck scarfs, floods the city's old quarter. Street musicians are everywhere. Colors of every hue fill the streets, as do aromas and smells of every type imaginable.

Smiling faces from every corner of the globe converge in a melting pot of languages, all brought together for the exhilarating daily "encierro," or bull run, at 8 a.m.

In the old days, I used to stack up the fridge with rolls of film months ahead of time to keep them fresh. The film was like gold nuggets during the 9-day frenzied fiesta on account of the great demand by photographers, professionals and amateurs alike.

Developing chemicals had to be kept in stock and at the proper temperature too. And every day the bulls were running, at 4 a.m. I would go in search of the best spot on the course barriers, particularly on the famous corner between Mercaderes and Estafeta streets, where bulls and runners often crash into each other.

Each bull thundered past faster than a shutter.

Like all my colleagues, I would be loaded down with cameras, lenses and monopods. Many used on the dangerous curves or corners would end up thrashed by the impact of the 500-kilo (1,100 pound), swift-footed animals.

But an adrenaline-pumping morning of shooting was just the start of the working day; still to come was the developing, editing and transmission of the best shots. With luck, the photographs would be on the editor's desk by noon.

Then the digital age transformed how we covered this most colorful festival, enabling us to shoot much more quickly. We would also place cameras in multiple locations and snap by remote control.

For the press photographer, San Fermin is an immense circuit of color, but also one of non-stop emotion. There are the songs and smiles, but also the pain when participants are fatally gored. The "encierros" offer new friendships and unrepeatable experiences, but also tragedy.

Very much like life itself, albeit condensed into nine days.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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