Cockfight - Tomas Munita


Well-known member
I passed my MOMA photo course! (Got a 91.40%) Me so smart. Sometimes, I think I like looking at photography more than paintings and have certainly gotten a lot of inspiration from a lot of photographs over a lot of years. In 2017, I created an entire painting around this one photo. And may I say, I don’t even like what I did with it but what else is new. In this course, the final peer-reviewed essay had to be 300-500 words, and we had to choose one of the week’s lesson and then tie the photo we chose into what we learned. You want to read it? Well, duh. Of course you do…it’s exciting stuff.


One night, while reading the New York Times, I was struck immediately by this image and sat, mesmerized. I ripped it out of the newspaper and saved it, thinking that someday, I needed to make a painting of this photo. It’s called “Cockfight,” and was taken in Vinales, Cuba in 2016 by an award-winning, Chilean photographer named Tomas Munita. Of course, I googled his name to see his amazing body of work and there, on his website he was described as “an independent documentary photographer with a main interest in social and environmental issues.” Looking at the photo, I assumed the men are watching a cockfight because the description is in the title. I also assumed he was presenting a record of contemporary rural Cuba, while also trying to get the viewer to understand something about the place such as the current culture and identity of the people. At first glance, it seems like straight documentation.

In the Week 3: Documentary Photography lesson, I learned that photographers often play with ideas of authenticity. One way to do this might be to choose an unusual framing of the subject which can then help to shape a specific narrative. In this photo, with a title of “Cockfight,” we don’t actually see a bird anywhere. Munita appears to have taken the picture, at ground level, and is peering upward, as if he wanted to present the point of view of the bird. This particular and unusual choice raises questions. Was there even a bird there at all? Was this a candid shot or were the men “posed” to look as if they were watching a cockfight? The intention of that choice makes me wonder how “truthful” the image is, and if Munita was really trying to make more of a critical commentary about the event, as opposed to simply recording what he saw.

This intentional choice of point of view led me to interpret Munita’s photo in the following ways. First, I puzzled over who was the object and who was the subject, and never settled on an answer. Second, because the composition looked slightly staged, it conveyed a theatricality that I instantly read as a kind of grand tableaux. In fact, the first thing I said to myself was that it looked “just like a painting.” Third, I was seeing this right after the 2016 election so maybe it’s not surprising that an image with menacing mobs of angry men directing their energy at (me/we/us…represented by “the bird”), would stop me in my tracks. As a painter, I felt an urgent need to “appropriate” Tomas Munita’s image so that I could reconstruct my own unique narrative. This one photo represented perfectly (and beautifully) how I was seeing my own “current culture and identity of the people” at that specific moment in time.
You're a great writer, which I always knew you were. Excellent. I love your curiosity about this image and I want to see what you did--your painting. Can you please show it despite how you feel about it. I bet it's not how you think it is. I bet it's great in the eyes of us. The eyes of me.
Yes! I've always liked reading your writing but I want to see the painting too! Pweeze!😙
Thanks, but NOOOOOOO!

Actually, it’s on my website but I haven’t learned how to link to it yet. (How do I do that?) Only parts of it was “successful” because I struggled with some of the faces and they looked like deformed freaks and the deformed freak faces are all that I see. In my appropriated version, I edited out some of the guys and changed the colors and painted them in my usual cartoony style. But the main thing I did was to take their eyeballs (all painted in the same color) and raised them UP so they were all staring directly at me, and you. I also wrote to Munita’s office to ask permission before I started because, while I use photo references a lot, I don’t just blatantly copy them, especially one from a famous photographer. He ignored me (as well he should), so I painted it anyway but included the title and his name across the bottom.

I like these bits well enough so that I can share, but not without an internal cringe.
Eyeballs to eyeballs.


I love these O.O!! ❤ ❤ ❤ And to link, just use the little chain links on the bar above the posting area. Copy your URL and put it in there.
Haha, Claude...underwhelming or overwhelming...they’re not going to intimidate us with those eyeballs. No way.

And thanks AGAIN Sno...for the love and for the help.
Oh MY GOd, each detail is better than the next and the one before. I want to see the whole piece. It's amazing how you captured the exact vibe of the photograph and the narrative, yet it is totally YOU. Beautiful!