Mexican Wrestling as Art In Spanish, lucha libre is translated literally to mean "free fighting" -- and to many Latinos, it's professional wrestling, vaudeville, a venerable cinema genre and the Bushido code of the Japanese Samurai all wrapped up in one campy and crowd-pleasing spectacle.
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Mexican Wrestling as Art

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Mexican Wrestling as Art

Mexican Wrestling as Art

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, the emotional toll on an African-American woman who portrays a slave at a South Carolina plantation.

First, in a bookstore in Venice, California, you can stand in a room that is overwhelmed by larger-than-life-sized color photographs of Mexican wrestlers. It's the first showing of these prints by photographer Malcolm Venville, who took pictures of 150 wrestlers in Mexico and has a book in the works. If you're near a computer, join us now at to see these images. NPR's Noah Adams went to the exhibit's opening and later talked with the photographer.

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NOAH ADAMS reporting:

There was marimba music and margaritas and one quite famous movie star, John Malkovich, but the photographs--you couldn't stop looking at the photographs. The wrestlers of Mexico City--caped, costumed, masked.

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ADAMS: The prints are huge, the size of a window, dry-mounted on thin sheets of aluminum. The colors are deep blues and fantastical fuchsia and reds and greens, and they seem to float out into the room.

Unidentified Man: You're the artist?

Mr. MALCOLM VENVILLE (Artist): I am, yes.

Unidentified Man: That's great.

Mr. VENVILLE: Thank you.

ADAMS: Malcolm Venville is British-born, quite a well-known photographer there. He now works in Hollywood, mostly producing commercials.

Mr. VENVILLE: Well, I was in Mexico City in January shooting a commercial and my friend took me to a fight. And it was in the coliseum in a fairly intense part of Mexico City. And so I did some research and I realized they haven't really been photographed in the formal way that I like. So at that point, I thought, `Well, I'm going to throw myself at this.'

ADAMS: He paid the wrestlers to come to a studio. They were proud to be photographed. They are working athletes, and this was a matter of respect. Equator Books has 13 of Venville's wrestlers on display, including Astro Boy, Super Pinocho 3000, Raziel. Raziel is a doctor--he was a doctor; now he's fighting full-time. And then there is Coco Verde. He is a green clown.

Mr. VENVILLE: He has a clown's red nose with a shocking, luminescent, green wig pouring off of the back of his head with a silver--a kind of almost a cheap, silver full-length coat. His identity's hidden by his mask and it's almost childish, almost like a childish nightmare.

ADAMS: And holding a flower in one hand, a vision in pink.

Mr. VENVILLE: This is Maximo, who--I think--whose outfit is very influenced by the Roman Empire.

ADAMS: And he's wearing silver boots and it's almost a dress; it's a wrestling outfit. Right?

Mr. VENVILLE: He's like Billy Idol meets, you know, Octavius. Maximo is a very lively wrestler who uses his gay persona on his entrance into the fight, but then quickly becomes fairly aggressive. And the crowds love him. You know, the children, the old people love him. He's a big crowd-pleaser.

ADAMS: On the wall at the back of the bookstore, alone and glaring even in the soft halogen spotlight, is the full-body image of a tough little guy.

Mr. VENVILLE: One of the most popular wrestlers is Super Porky.

ADAMS: Super Porky is--he wrestles a lot, I understand, here in Los Angeles.

Mr. VENVILLE: He does, yeah. He was demasked some years ago and he's, by a tradition of wrestling, not allowed to wear a mask again for some years.

ADAMS: What do you mean he was demasked?

Mr. VENVILLE: You know, sometimes when a wrestling match becomes personal, when it becomes bitter, the opponent will try and rip your mask off and basically reveal your identity. So he wrestles unmasked, which is quite unusual.

ADAMS: He looks like he's mad about the whole thing, too, doesn't he?

Mr. VENVILLE: You know, he's an interesting guy, Super Porky. Super Porky's fighting name was Brazo de Plata Silva, and his friend, his fighting partner, Golden Arm(ph), died in the ring from a slap to the throat.

ADAMS: Really?



Mr. VENVILLE: So it just gives you an idea of the intensity of some of the fights. They can get a little violent.

ADAMS: The gritty and the glamorous shot on film with a four-by-five view camera; real film, not digital. Venville says he is still obsessed by film, and happily here, it helps capture fantasy in a way that digital might not.

Mr. VENVILLE: The way that digital reads light is slightly different to film.

ADAMS: Light?

Mr. VENVILLE: Yeah, the way it reads light, the way it transmits. The way it copies realities is subtly different, I think. I can't really define it. It's a little bit mystical and strange. Film gives you a little bit more magic.

ADAMS: Malcolm Venville and a few of his photographs of the wrestlers of Mexico City. Noah Adams, NPR News.

CHADWICK: And don't forget, you can see those pictures right now. Go to

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