When I read online about the Feria Nacional de la Pirotecnia in Tultepec, I was instantly fascinated,” says Viennese photographer Florian Rainer. “Tultepec is Mexico’s fireworks capital, and its residents make rockets and firecrackers for 120 million people.
In the first week of March every year, the factory workers organise nine days of competitions and parades. It’s a festival for professional pyromaniacs. I had to go.
“I flew to Mexico City in early March and took the first bus north. Tultepec is 35km away. An incredible number of men with burns got on the bus – I knew I was going in the right direction.
“There was already a party atmosphere in the streets when I arrived; women were barbecuing chicken over shopping trolleys, and men drinking tequila, all anticipating the big fireworks displays that mark the start of the Feria.
That evening, I marched along with 5,000 people to a field to see the castillo competition. Castillos are wooden towers with Catherine wheels and launch platforms attached to them, and each belongs to a pyrotechnician who sets off his fireworks by remote control.
If a Catherine wheel ever got stuck, men would clamber up onto the burning towers and get it going with their bare hands. That was a surreal sight.
“My personal highlight came on day two of the festival. The town-dwellers had created more than 300 papier-mâché bulls for the parade of the toritos, and each bull could contain anything up to 4,000 fireworks. The parade moved towards the town’s main plaza as night fell, and when these bulls filled with explosives were set alight, the town just went berserk.”
There were sparks everywhere, magnesium caps were exploding, and people danced around the smoking toritos.
I took photographs until 4am. As dawn began to break, I gave up trying to count the burn holes in my jumper. My trousers were hanging off my legs in shreds. I had burns to both hands. But you can really only be part of this kind of pyromaniac passion when you’re right up close to it.”
To see Florian Rainer’s photo reportages, go to: florianrainer.com