These black and white images were taken when I lived in Mexico in the mid-80’s. The color photographs are from a series of over 400 photographs which were taken while I was working as the location sound recordist and still photographer on the set of the first English language “Lucha Libre” (or “Free Fighting”) genre horror films : “Mil Máscaras versus the Aztec Mummy”, “Academy of Doom”, and “Aztec Revenge”.
Mil Máscaras, who has starred in Mexican “Lucha Libre” films since the early 60’s, and the subject of many of these photos, is a worldwide celebrity. If one Googles “Mil+Mascaras” one get over 350,000 hits from dozens of countries. In Japan, where he popularized “Lucha Libre” in the 70s, he is known as “Kamen Kizoku” (“The Masked Noble”). Commonly confused with American professional wrestling, “Lucha Libre” has its own distinct history and traditions, much of which is borrowed from Mexico’s rich indigenous customs and symbolism. The mask as used in Mexico dates from antiquity when persons would conceal their identity with a mask in order to be empowered by a spiritual entity without being conflicted and connected to their actual identity. The same is true today when luchadores (wrestlers) who don a mask to become superheros, and upon entering the ring, symbolically fight against an opponent who represents evil and the multitudes of social inequities that are part of everyday life. In many ways “Lucha Libre” has more in common with the arts of dance and theater than with sports.
As professional wrestler and author Michael Spillane writes : Lucha libre contains a lot of elements pro-wrestling does not. The most key of these differences is the anonymity of the athletes themselves…. No single prop is loaded with as much drama as the mask of a luchador. To wear it is to defy the opposition, to deny them your identity and to assume the traits symbolized by the mask itself, becoming larger than life. I believe “Mil” to be one of the last true “Superheroes”, a true legend of our times. He is a paragon of luchador fighting spirit, a rare combination of quiet humility and incredible physical prowess. At 68, he continues to travel globally performing dozens of wrestling exhibitions each year. His decision to remain constantly masked combined with his social compassion is a paradox of ‘identity’ : the mysterious masked wrestler who extols virtue, but conceals his private identity behind the mask. [Official Website]