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 organize 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, 21 miles away. An incredible number of men with burns got on the bus, so I knew I was going in the right direction.”
“There was already a party atmosphere in the streets when
I arrived; women were barbecuing chickens over shopping carts and men were drinking tequila, all anticipating the big fireworks displays that mark the start of the festival. That evening I marched along with 5,000 people to a field to see the castillo competition. Castillos (“castles”) are wooden towers with Catherine wheels and launch platforms attached, and each belongs to a pyrotechnician who sets off his fireworks by remote control. If a pinwheel 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, with each bull containing up to 4,000 fireworks. The parade moved toward 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 with delight amid the smoking remains.”
“I took photographs until 4 a.m. As dawn began to break, I gave up trying to count the burn holes in my sweater. My pants were hanging off my legs in shreds, and I had burns on both hands. But you can really only be part of this kind of pyromaniac passion when you’re right up close to it.”