Where the sun never sets on the Red Flag
By Craig Wherlock
6 May 2007
6 May 2007
As I open the box a sudden flash of memory, a ripple of nostalgia nudges me. I'm eleven years old again and my shiny new Polaroid instamatic camera lies cocooned in its box. The very epitome of instant gratification. Alas, most of the shots I took over the next few days turned out blurry as the camera failed to keep pace with my hyper - active friends. Nor did the glorious shore line vistas I took from the ferry that took us to France turn out to be anything more than tiny dots of light lost in the blackness. Still, the same shiver of anticipation that I felt them was present as I prepared to use my new Nikon D40.
Luckily, the Mayday parade in Thessaloniki , the Greek city I've called home since 1989, gave me the ideal opportunity to try it out and see what I could capture. Drama, the chance for endless close up shots and the faint possibility of violence meant that it was irresistible photo opportunity.
One of the beauties of photographing people in Greece is that you can get up close and people aren't fazed. Being a Mediterranean country the personal space that people feel comfortable in is much smaller than in Northern Europe. As a result you are able to take pictures of complete strangers at less than a meter (yard, cubit, whatever) which is my preferred manner of taking portraits in the street.
At 10am the party faithful started gathering at the statute of Venizelou in the center of the city with a collection of flags and colors worthy of Kurosawa's Ran. Grandmothers carrying the Hammer and Sickle mingled with giggly teenage boys dressed in black and serious looking union guys decked out in orange. Then came the speeches exulting us to support striking workers in the various factories around the city and to remember comrades who'd fallen in past battles against the capitalists and the security forces. Names were invoked, the old mantras recited to the delight of the party faithful.
The march wound it's way through around Egnatia and Tsimiski in a peaceful manner except for an incident when insults and the occasional water bottle were thrown between two differing ideological factions.
The image that most sticks in my mind is that of the pensioner leading the parade. It wasn't until I started looking at my photos on the computer that I saw that he had his fist clenched in defiance, ready for a fight even though he must have been at least eighty years old.
Later it was off to a taverna with friends for long, wine fueled discussions about politics, love and the future which lasted into the evening.