While researching Mexico I came across a visually arresting video that featured a pyrotechnic display in Tultepec which melted the photographer’s camera and made my eyes dance. I had to learn more so I reached out to Dan Melamind and Porter Yates from Witness Earth to learn more.
Here is my interview with Porter:
From what I can see this is in Tultepec. What made you travel to this festival? Had a friend been there? Did you read about it?
I saw images from a photographer that visited in 2013 and thought it looked unique. When I was a kid I really wanted to be a pyrotechnician, so the festival seemed like a natural fit for my interests. There was very little information online. I did some research and found a local guide that was able to help me out.
Do you Speak Spanish? Do you think that you’d need to be a native Spanish speaker to get the subtext?
I do speak Spanish. I’m not fluent, but can get by easily enough. Knowing the local language always opens doors and facilitates travel. For this festival, I don’t think it is a requirement. Once the fireworks start, there isn’t much to talk about.
Tultepec’s main industry is fireworks and the town has a weeklong festival where the various producers compete. They’ve combined a bull run with fireworks creating an adrenaline rush readers can only imagine. Did you feel like a participant or an observer?
There were times I was definitely an outsider. Tultepec has created a unique tradition that is important for the locals. Most people in the town have ties to the fireworks industry, so they work on this stuff year round. It’s dangerous. The day before I arrived three men died when their workshop ignited as they were assembling shells from China. There is no way I can fully understand all the details and meaning of the event. However, when I was in the fray, dodging the bulls and rockets, I was just like everyone else – another member of the crowd.
What would you recommend to someone who wanted to witness this? Where did you stay?
I stayed in Mexico City. The festival isn’t geared towards tourists and it takes a lot flexibility and resources to experience it. It was hard to get clear information on when certain events would be happening, having a local guide was very helpful. The event with the bulls was somewhat dangerous. Large fireworks are ignited in the crowd, the bulls weigh more than two thousand pounds and are pushed by teams of four or six men. They can’t stop on a dime and if you are in the way you will get run over. The square becomes very slippery with broken glass and spent rocket tubes. I wore protective clothing and it still caught on fire. The top of my camera melted. I’m fortunate I’m 6’4” and able to see a bit above the crowd level. It would be very easy to get tripped up and fall in the crowd. I saw a lot of people limping or being carried off to the medic booth. With that said, it was a lot of fun.
Tell me more about Witness.Earth
The video is part of a larger project I’m working on with director Dan Melamid called Witness.Earth. I’ve traveled as a photographer for several years and have a large library of images. Through his editing and my photographs, we are making unique travel videos that showcase different events and parts of the world. If you haven’t seen our site, it offers more details on the project. We will have our third video released soon covering Semana Santa in Guatemala and Ecuador, followed by a video of North and South Korea. We have plans for about a dozen videos.
You can follow Dan on Twitter