DE CANO (Cano’s Legends) Photography by Francisco Cano.
In February of this year my friend Jane Hurwitz, Vice President of TBA, informed me that the book MITOS DE CANO, containing photographs by the well-known taurine photographer Francisco Cano, had been published in Spain. I became very interested in knowing more about this publication, since I am a personal friend of Cano, with whom during my days as a torero I had a professional relationship. I am a great admirer of his work as well.
I went on the Internet with the goal of finding out where to purchase the book on line. I was unsuccessful since there was no reference as to where this book was being sold in the United States. On the other hand, I learned interesting information about the publication that increased my interest in obtaining the book.
I learned that Andrés Amorós was the author of the text. Professor Amorós is a famous man of letters in Spain. He is a professor of literature and philology at the Universidad Complutense of Madrid. He is also a busy author who has written many books and multiple academic papers, as well as articles for the regular press on diverse subjects. He is a great aficionado and, therefore, some of his writings deal with bullfighting. Last December he became the taurine critic of ABC, one of the most important newspapers in Spain, which is unusual for an intellectual man of his caliber. Also, I found out that Cano’s portraits in the book were not of bullfighters in action in the rings, but rather of famous international and Spanish personalities from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, such as aristocrats, politicians, writers, movie stars, artists, musicians, singers, or dancers, as well as toreros interacting with those personalities.
At last, I was able to buy MITOS DE CANO in the Corte Inglés department store in Seville in April, where I usually buy my taurine books. The salesman told me that I was getting the last issue left in the store, and that they were not expecting to get any more copies from the editors since the edition was sold out.
When I opened the big, heavy and attractive book with a sensual picture of Ava Gardner on the cover, I was impressed by the quality, beauty and brightness of the black and white pictures, covering one or two whole pages. The people in the images, many of them beautiful women, seemed to be alive trying to escape from the pages on which the pictures were printed. I was so engaged looking at the pictures, that it took me a good while to notice that side by side with Amorós’s text were complete English translations. This was a great surprise, because in none of the promotional material of the book that I saw in Spanish was there any mention of the English text, whose translator is anonymous, since in the introduction the translation is listed only as “English text ROM editors”.
The bilingual aspect of this publication doubles its appeal, since English speakers can not only delight in admiring the qualities of the pictures, but they can, at the same time, broaden their knowledge of the persons represented in the pictures, as well as of the circumstances and historical background of the time when the pictures were taken. For me, as a reviewer, the English text was of some help since when I quoted from the text, I just copied from the translations, instead of doing the translations myself, as I have done when reviewing other Spanish books in English. Nevertheless, I must offer a word of caution about the English text. I noticed that the translation is rather liberal and it does not accurately reflect the erudite and articulate style of Amorós. There are even some inaccuracies.
MITOS DE CANO has three parts. The first part is an introduction of the book by Amorós (pps. 5-12); the second is bibliographical in nature, in which Amorós relates the interesting life of Cano in broad terms, giving us a good idea of his peculiar bohemian personality, and affable and likeable character. There are also several pictures of Cano in action with his camera, or socializing with the subjects of his photographs (pps. 13-35), since he became friends with some of them. The remainder of the book is a showcase of the work of Cano who, with his camera, captured the images of famous international personalities visiting Spain in the fourth, fifth and sixth decades of the past century, as well as the images of famous Spaniards of that time (pps. 36-283).
In his introduction, Amorós, defines the scope of the book when he was negotiating with the editors:
We agreed at the very start that this volume would not concern itself with the in-ring experiences of professional bullfighters…Although the book is, of course, linked to the bullfighting world, it focuses on the great personalities of the social world, the stars and the legends as the title says …(p. 6).
Furthermore, in his introduction professor Amorós informs thereaders about the close friendship that he has had for a long time with Cano and his family, and that Cano wanted him to be the person involved in the project of publishing his book. Also, Amorós shares with the readers the doubts he had about getting involved in the project due to the fact that he would have to select and organize the extensive photographic material that was stored in Cano’s disorganized files:
Let us recall the facts and figures of the treasures that lie in his archives: more than two million pictures, grouped into hundreds (perhaps thousands) of reportages using somewhat doubtful criteria, and to distinguish one group from another, he usually gives them a name and date whose accuracy can be somewhat questionable…But that is Cano for you: take him or leave him. You ‘ve got to take him, of course: both for the importance of his work and out of affection for the man he is…So you need to be brave in order to head into the wild jungle of his archive (p. 5).
Amorós’ decision to proceed with the project is commendable because MITOS DE CANO without the text of this great writer would have been just another book of beautiful photographs, but with his writing that contains well researched social and popular historical facts, it becomes a book that, in addition to giving us the opportunity to enjoy seeing amazing and beautiful pictures, helps us to learn more about an interesting period of Spain of the 20th century. Amorós also included in his narrative the amusing anecdotes and original observations that the 97-year old Cano shared with the author.
In the biographical section the author, in 16 pages, highlights some of the meaningful events of Cano’s long life, that make this photographer another legend in his own right, similar to the personalities appearing in his book. He was born in Alicante in 1912, and he inherited the love for bullfighting from his father, who in his youth used to be a modest novillero. Cano also became a struggling novillero, after having, at the early age of 17, tried his luck as a flyweight boxer, among other things. During the Spanish Civil War Cano developed an interest in photography, and after the war ended he gave up bullfighting to become a taurine photographer, a profession which he continues practicing with great success until now. Amorós summarizes the biography of Cano with these words:
If he is unknown to you, we should tell you three things about him: he is the doyen of bullfighting photographers. He was the only one present on that tragic afternoon in Linares, 28th August 1947, when Manolete was fatally injured, and his photos went around the world. He still works today even though he is close to his hundredth birthday…After his career spanning more than six decades, it is not surprising that his photographic collection is exceptionally rich. This book that you are holding in your hands contains a selection of these wonderful photographs (p.14).
This selection of Cano’s work is presented in the remaining 255 pages of the book. In this section we basically can distinguish three groups of photographs.
The first group (pps. 36-179) contains pictures of super famous international personalities as Ava Gardner, Lucia Bosé, Grace Kelly, Deborah Kerr, Sofia Loren, Empress Soraya, Lupe Sino, Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, Charlon Heston, Dr. Fleming and Prince Rainier of Monaco. Pictures of the dictator Francisco Franco, “Manolete” and Luis Miguel Dominguín are also included in the same group
There are several photos of each of these personalities, which were often taken in taurine environments, attending bullfights, private parties or participating in tientas organized for them by bull breeders. In many of these pictures they are shown socializing with well-known toreros.
Spain has always had a special attraction for foreign visitors, since they wanted, among other things, to experience the romanticized Spain of the bullfighters and the gypsy dancers. But in the 50’s and 60’s that attraction became even greater, since Spain was again opening its doors, after a long isolation, caused by the Spanish Civil War and World War II, as well as by the existing American opposition to Franco’s dictatorship. So it was not rare that the famous visitors could also share the same interest in knowing the romantic parts of Spanish culture. Therefore, it was normal that those famous visitors also would get involved in those exotic worlds. The editors of this book were lucky that Cano was present with his camera to record the experiences of those legendary men and women.
Some examples of the interesting images published in the book are: Gary Cooper fighting a small cow with a cape on a ranch; Ava Gardner dancing flamenco with matador “Chamaco”; Dr. Fleming donning a flamenco hat; Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier seated in first row seats at the bullring in Madrid; matador Julio Aparicio dedicating a bull to Orson Welles; or Ernest Hemingway drinking in the callejón of the Pamplona bullring, standing beside his good friend Antonio Ordoñez.
The subjects of the second group of pictures (pps. 180-283) are images of Spanish popular personalities who, generally speaking, are persons much better known in the Spanish countries than in the rest of the world, such as the philosopher Ortega y Gasset, the Duchess of Alba, barman Perico Chicote, and entertainers Conchita Piquer, Lola Flores, Juanita Reina, Carmen Sevilla, Lina Morgan, Rocio Jurado, Manolo Caracol, Juanito Valderrama, Pepe Marchena, “El Principe Gitano” and Antonio Gades.
In these two sections, the pictures related to each person are grouped together occupying several pages. Then Amorós introduces each subject with a brief biography, highlighting some interesting characteristic of his or her personality, and he often adds amusing commentaries and anecdotes of Cano related to his “mitos” in his text, as the three examples that follow show:
--Amorós quotes Cano when he was comparing the beauty of his friend Ava Gardner with the beauty of the Virgin Mary:
She was the most beautiful woman in the world. My wife, who’s very religious does not like me comparing her to the Virgin; so I tell her that she’s got the Virgin Mary, and I’ve got Ava Gardner, and everything’s settled (p. 54).
--Also, he quotes the comment that Cano made about the gluttony of Orson Welles when they were selecting the picture in which the actor-director was eating a paella with a group of friends at the entrance of the Valencia bullring in 1960. Cano said “He almost didn’t leave any rice for the rest of us, because he loved it.” (p. 94).
--Furthermore, Amorós, in his brief biography of the genial Ernest Hemingway, made a reference to his heavy drinking when he visited Spain in 1959, and he emphasizes that fact adding Cano’s comments about parting with his friend Hemmingway:
His knowledge of bullfighting was only so-so, but the thing is that he had a great affection for Cayetano Ordoñez, the father, and they would get drunk together, because they both drank like fish. I drank with them sometimes and both [sic] of us were very drunk on occasion in Pamplona (p. 87).
The last part of the book is titled OTROS MITOS (Other Legends) (pps. 281-335) and, different from the other sections, it contains only one picture of each of the famous people that are featured. Also, Amorós text is limited to identifying the persons in the photos and clarifying where and when the photos were taken. King Juan Carlos, author Antonio Gala, boxer Paulino Uzcudun and entertainers Yul Brynner, Broderick Crawford, Antonio Casal, Nati Mistral and Rocio Jurado are some of the personalities appearing in this section. Amorós explains his criteria for placing those pictures in a separate group:
Over the years, Paco Cano has been a good friend to many famous people…that much can clearly be seen from his photographic collection. He has also had sporadic contact with other, equally well-known people; or he has merely taken fewer photos of them, regardless of how good his relationship has been with them…Although the photographs are fewer in number, we still want these pictures to be seen, in order to give a full overview of Cano’s legend (p. 285).
When buying MITOS DE CANO in the Corte Inglés in Seville I took a fast glance at some of Cano’s sensational photographs, and I knew right away that later, when I would be looking more carefully at the many great pictures printed in the 335 pages of the book, I would be treated to the sensation of beauty. I was right. Nevertheless, what I did not know then was that, by reading the descriptive and informative text of the articulate Andrés Amorós, spiced with some of Cano’s observations and anecdotes that accompany the realistic images, this book would bring to life a part of the popular culture existing in Spain in the middle of the past century. A time when, among other things, it was politically correct for local and visiting famous people to participate in the world of bullfighting, and to allow themselves to be photographed by Cano when they were taking part, with obvious enjoyment, in taurine activities.
MITOS DE CANO is a publication that cannot be classified strictly as a taurine book. Nevertheless, since in addition to its attractive artistic and historical values, it contains so much material tangentially related to the Fiesta Brava, that any persons interested in bullfighting literature should have it in their library.