Lucha Loco: The Free Wrestlers of Mexico
(Universe Publishing; US: Dec 1969)
When my wife and I saw the first ultrasound images of our unborn child, one image struck out. The not-yet fully formed head turned toward the imaging equipment, and when the picture snapped the “face” captured on the screen was a terrifying blur of white, horn-like points, empty black holes for eyes, and gaping mouth. “It looks like a Mexican wrestling mask,” my wife said. It did, and now every time I see the picture my head is filled with masked men and women flying about in wild flashes of color and athleticism.
Like that ultrasound picture, the photos in Malcolm Venville’s Lucha Loco are wonderful and strange. There are profiles, head and full body shots of 128 luchadores, each accompanied by a single-sentence quote from interviews Venville conducted with his subjects. The luchadores muse on their love of the sport, their lives outside the ring as accountants and lawyers, and the paradoxical freedom that comes with wearing a mask.
The faces behind the mask are never revealed, but the photos are often close enough to not just see the eyes of the subject, but the pores of their skin, the scars inflicted from years of abuse. Venville displays masks and impressive physiques of the luchadores in simple poses with unadorned backgrounds, but his photos best capture the nobility, heroism and even villainy embodied in these people. Venville guides us through the masks to reveal the people beneath.