By Ian Langsdon
Paris, for many, is the city of lights, high fashion and fine cuisine. For the news photographer, it is also the capital of international diplomacy – with an average of four visiting dignitaries per week, creating a steady supply of ‘grip & grin’ photo-opportunities. If there is one thing Paris is not renowned for, however, it is Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling. So when a press release appeared in my inbox one morning bearing the title “Cassandro El Exotico VS Luchadores in Paris”, I was unsure whether or not I was the subject of an elaborate prank.
After investigating further, it appeared that ‘Cassandro El Exotico’ was not only a real-life wrestler, but in fact somewhat of a celebrity within the realm of Lucha Libre. Oh, and Cassandro is a drag-queen. That was all I needed – this story was too strange to ignore.
The fight was to be held at the Cartier Foundation in central Paris. Upon my arrival on fight-night, it became apparent that the press was not expected to show up, judging by the bewildered look on the press relations personnel’s faces. Nevertheless I was welcomed in, and left with an ominous warning: “Don’t stand next to the ring. You’ll get squashed.”
With that in mind, I kept as far from the ring as humanly possible, opting to shoot with my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, amidst the audience. The event drew a small gathering of around 200, mostly eccentric-looking folks, for whom this seemed to be a normal Monday night. What followed, was far from normal. Two colossal, shirtless, masked wrestlers (luchadores) faced off with two petite, drag-queen ‘exotics’ in tights. What ensued was a whirlwind of gravity-defying acrobatics, cabaret-style risqué showmanship and downright physical violence. Bodies flew, heads were slapped, and an array of Spanish swear words were thrown around. After taking a considerable beating, Cassandro and his equally feminine sidekick rose to the occasion and delivered the final blows, seizing their victory. The fight was over.
Back home that night, I was reviewing the picture production and struggling with the edit, as many shots had distracting colourful clutter in the background. Suddenly a Facebook notification popped up inviting me to join ‘Black & White photo-challenge’ that had been going viral all week. This, along with Benjamin Legier’s support, inspired me to make an entire edit in black and white, which ultimately solved the background issue, allowing the photos to focus on the action and expressions instead.
A few days after the picture package release, Italian news website Panorama picked up the story, writing a full article about Cassandro, using the full feature as a slideshow.
This was a great surprise after what can only be described as a truly surprising assignment!