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SLAM: Lucha Libre Superheroes of the Ring - Katinka Herbert interview

SLAM, by Katinka Herbert

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ACCLAIMED photographer Katinka Herbert talks to IndieLondon exclusively about her love for Lucha Libre and her experiences of creating the book, SLAM.

Herbert is a respected international photographer, whose work regularly appears in national titles including the Guardian, Observer, Telegraph, Food Illustrated and Dazed and Confused. Slam is described as “part art book, part fun book – in total a labour of love”.

Q. Hi, we think your photos are amazing and can’t wait to see the book in full… when did you first become captivated by the world of the luchadors?
Katinka Herbert: Thank you! I was initially drawn to the sport through visual references in magazines and posters, there’s something compelling about a masked wrestler. They are also phenomenal athletes and know how to work a crowd.

Q. Who is your own personal favourite luchador? And why? Katinka Herbert: Do I have to choose?! Blue Demon. He’s fantastic to watch in the ring. I like to think I can be persuasive, but it took four years before Blue Demon finally agreed to let me photograph him! But I also like Cassandro for his charisma, he really knows how to work a crowd, and Dr Wagner for his prowess.

Q. How easy was it to gain their trust and get such an intimate, close-up view?
Katinka Herbert: It’s a very macho scene, so as a female photographer it was hard for them to believe I worked as a professional, but in other ways female charm can help! It took years for some of the luchadores to finally agree to a shoot, it was a huge challenge.

Q. Do you have a favourite fight… one time that stands out in the memory?
Katinka Herbert: All the fights at the smaller rings are electric – for example the Neza (the Bronx of Mexico city) the crowd always goes wild and health and safety don’t play a part.

Q. Likewise, which are the photos in the book that you’re most proud to have captured?
Katinka Herbert: Each portrait was a milestone, but Villano IV and V playing cards, and Dr wagner standing alongside his muscle car as the sun went down.

Q. The tale of the priest who fought in the ring to fund an orphanage sounds intriguing? Can you tell us more?
Katinka Herbert: Fray Tormenta was Jack Black’s inspiration for Nacho Libre, the priest turned to wrestling after a vision convinced him it would finance his orphanage. These days his numerous interviews with European and US television companies earn him more than wrestling!

Q. Likewise, how was your Cool Hand Luke moment?
Katinka Herbert: Many of the wrestlers follow a heavy carbohydrate and protein diet to stay bulked up… I sat with Ultraman as he chomped his way through a mountain of boiled egg whites and white rice to match Mount Everest.

Q. What have you learned about the human psyche from your time with the luchadors?
Katinka Herbert: These guys, and ladies, spend their careers being thrown around the ring. I have learnt that following lucha libre as a career does nothing for the memory but stokes the fire in the soul.

Q. How do the luchadoras compare to the luchadors? Are they as easy to talk to and learn from?
Katinka Herbert: The women were fantastic and very enthusiastic about being included in the book. From the younger generation of Luchadoras, Dark Angel is lean and athletic and fantastic to watch in the ring. She has set a benchmark for the other women.

Q. What’s the most inspirational tale you’ve heard from a luchador?
Katinka Herbert: Many of the Luchadors choose wrestling as their career path from a young age, the gruelling and relentless training is an inspiration in itself. For a large number of the luchadors wrestling has given them a career that opens up a world of opportunities.

Q. And what makes their exploits so captivating, so much so that everyone from Britney Spears to Jonathan Ross is captivated by them?
Katinka Herbert: Lucha libre has been described as: ‘Theatrical bouts that fuse the lurid escapism of Bollywood with the athleticism of Premiership footballers and the traditional folklore of good against evil’.

Q. Were you a fan of Nacho Libre?
Katinka Herbert: I have only watched short edits from the movie… Lucha libre fights are full of comedic moments but Nacho Libre was based on a more lighthearted take on the sport.

Q. When did you first become interested in photography? And how easy was it pursue as a career?
Katinka Herbert: I started working as a photographer in my early 20’s. I have always been a voyeur so it felt very natural. I was fortunate to gain commissions from the off.

Q. What’s the greatest piece of advice you’ve been given and the biggest lesson you’ve learned in getting to this point?
Katinka Herbert: Fight like it’s your ultimate match.

Q. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps as a photographer?
Katinka Herbert: Find a subject matter that inspires you. Assist a photographer who’s work you find exciting or who is technically brilliant.

Q. Do you ever get nervous/intimidated before meeting a legend? And how do you overcome those nerves, if so?
Katinka Herbert: As long as you know what you want out of a shoot and are focused nerves don’t get a chance to creep in. You’re there to direct the subject matter and to coax the best out of them.

Q. What do you like about Mexico and its people?
Katinka Herbert: Mexico City is one of the largest, craziest city’s in the world. It’s hard to generalize about the character of a nation, but I have made some fantastic and inspirational mates in Mexico.

Q. What are your hopes for this, your first book? And what’s been the most pleasing and/or surprising reaction you’ve had to it?
Katinka Herbert: I am just happy the book is out there! SLAM has been an amazing journey, and people’s reactions to the book have been great.