Fine art to some, blood-sport to others, bullfighting continues to be a practice steeped in contention. Blood of Kings follows the career of matador Jose Tomas, marking his triumphs and setbacks in the arena. Considered by many to be the last great matador, Tomas makes for an enigmatic subject, even called suicidal for his lack of concern for his safety.

As Cazalis writes about the matador, the star of the book:

His serenity always shook me. It’s not that he has overcome the fear of death, it’s that he has accepted it and has learned to control his fear to move beyond the established threshold. I think he learned this through meditation and inner reflection.

Focusing on both Tomas and the bulls creates a dynamic series of images. The use of both color and black-and-white images provides an interesting contrast. In the black-and-white photographs, we find a timeless quality. Packed stadiums show engrossed fans staring down at the action below. Hands reach up from the crowd to touch the matador’s sleeve. Perhaps Hemingway himself witnessed the scene pictured. Tomas, back arched, guides the bull to pass through his cape, like a glimpse into The Sun Also Rises.

However, the color images shatter this cinematic lens. The bright, vibrant images of Tomas entering the area are saturated with warmth—and death. Defeated, a bull’s severed head rests in a pool of blood, tongue lolling. A bright lavender uniform is splashed with dark gore. These images bring an sharp, hyper-real awareness to the immediacy of what’s at stake.

These images speak to bullfighting’s connection to death, courage, and passion. Indeed, even Hemingway could not deny the heavy overtones:

“I suppose, from a modern point of view, that is, a Christian point of view, the whole bullfighting is indefensible; there is certainly much cruelty, there is always danger, either sought or unlooked for, and there is always death.”

Dedicated to longterm documentary projects, Cazalis believes that spending significant time on a series is the best way to gain greater depth and perspective on his subject matter. Indeed, his interest in bullfighting goes beyond the seven years he spent working on this series. Growing up in a bullfighting family in Aguascalientes, Mexico with three generations of matadors, Cazalis has always been surrounded by bullfighting:

I grew up in a bullfighting family, but as a child, I never liked it. I chose photography, but I was eventually attracted to bullfighting by the aesthetics and the risk of death. The bull was ever-present. As a child, my grandfather had the head of famous bull mounted in the billiard room. It terrorized me…I always thought it was the minotaur’s head. Through photographing bullfights, I realized there was a profound philosophy, humanity, and ritual. I do not consider myself a bullfighting advocate, but this is a part of my story.

While bullfighting remains controversial, this bold work shows its many angles: celebratory, heroic, violent, and cruel. As Cazalis concludes:

This book closes for me a chapter of my life, dedicated to my father who taught me all I know about bullfighting. In bullfighting, I find a whole philosophy of life. I cannot go against it, I can only try demonstrate to you what I have done and learned through images, because that’s what I practice, photography. I hope you live your life fully as does the bull, a being consigned to the fate of living only to die—a fate out of its control.

—Lauren Sarazen

Editor’s note: Carlos Cazalis is currently in the process of crowd-funding his book
Blood of Kings—on the funding page, you’ll find a video showcasing the entire book!