Marking the end of summer, on the last Wednesday of every August, thousands of revellers head to the town of Buñol, near Valencia, Spain, to take part in the world’s largest food fight. Over 100 metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown during the festival.
The crowd, made up of hedonists from all over the globe, numbered over 20,000 this year, a number that was restricted by local authorities: previous years saw masses of 40 or 50,000 people drawn to the city, creating a crush of humanity deemed too dangerous to be permitted to go on.
This year, Magnum photographer Matt Stuart was one of the crowd, capturing the food fighters from the moment they climb a greasy pole, opening the event, and during the entire hour that the tomato fight lasts. “I soon realised that this was a once in a lifetime experience when I was being moved by the sheer flow of people, it became a human tidal wave of bodies,” notes the photographer.
“I still have the adrenaline running through me,” he exclaimed, 24 hours after the event ended. Indeed, the festival is considered one of the 10 most dangerous in the world. Comparing this to photographing the crowds outside the G20 in Hamburg earlier this year, Stuart continued, “I have been in some pretty intense crowd situations this year… but nothing prepared me for the ‘sardine-like’ feeling that I experienced here.”
After the fight, the streets are hosed down by the town, using water from a nearby Roman aqueduct. The one-hour event leaves the city covered in tomato pulp, the acid effect of which in fact cleans the asphalt underneath. “Luckily the organisers have it all under control and squeeze the lorries full of tomatoes through the streets without too many injuries… I was amazed at how quickly they clean the streets; it was all back to normal after a couple of hours,” Stuart says.
And what did the photographer learn in this brief but memorable experience? “Tomatoes hurt quite a lot! I don’t like tomatoes as much as I did before yesterday,” he quips.
Explore Matt Stuart’s tomato fight in the slide show above.