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Work / Photography

Thomas Prior captures a Mexican festival involving exploding sledgehammers

Every February in the Mexican town of San Juan de la Vega, its people gather together to commemorate a four-century-old battle that occurred between the town’s namesake and the area’s landowners.

The traditional celebrations see the townspeople gather on an empty football pitch to watch on as hundreds of local men strap homemade potassium chlorate fertiliser-based explosives to the heads of sledgehammers and slam them against the lengths of steel rail. Photographer Thomas Prior travelled to the small town to capture the festival and the bizarrely violent activity.

Thomas originally got the idea from London-based photographer Harry Mitchell. “He sent me a YouTube link saying, ‘you’d be into this’ and a week later I was on the plane heading to Mexico,” explains Thomas.

Instantly Thomas was aware of the dangers of photographing a festival like this where thick plumes of smoke and showers of flying shrapnel were part of the landscape. Many of the men who take part in the series are unprotected, simply wearing jeans and T-shirts. The photographer times his shots perfectly and captures various moments including the point of impact and the cascading aftermath where many of the participants’ feet are off the ground.

The closeness Thomas has achieved emphasises the danger and violence of the “sport”. With the clouds of phosphorus smog surrounding each of the men, our eye is drawn solely to the action with the rest of the background misted out. This increases the ambiguity that surrounds the series but also the festival as a whole, as it’s still unclear where this salute to Juan de la Vega originally derived from.

The series, titled Bomba has been made into a book, which sees Thomas’ images full bleed and impactful. Set to be released tomorrow, a book signing with the photographer is taking place at Dashwood Books, Thursday 8 December, 6 – 8pm in New York.

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Thomas Prior: Bomba

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Thomas Prior: Bomba

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Thomas Prior: Bomba

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Thomas Prior: Bomba

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Thomas Prior: Bomba

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Thomas Prior: Bomba

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Thomas Prior: Bomba