I thought that in keeping with tradition I'd look back over the last twelve months, choosing one image for each month. Not that life fits into such neatly packaged units of time but as an organisational principle it's a somewhat better than a "top ten". Like many here in Greece 2009 has been a tough year on many levels. For me personally, it has seen tragedy and loss of people close to me and a growing realisation that I, too am not immune to the passage of time and all that entails.
This was a terrible time, full of anger, guilt and regret. My mother had been diagnosed with cancer a few weeks beforehand and died just one day before I could get back to England to see her. As you can imagine this was an awful shock and something I am still struggling to come to terms with. The fact that this happened during one of the most turbulent periods in my life and modern Greek history just added to the emotional weight of my memories.
Riots, demonstrations and almost daily clashes between protesters and the police which I covered as much as I could for various citizen journalism sites.
The month proved to be a lot less eventful than the previous ones and despite strikes and protests seemed much calmer allowing people to enjoy traditional celebrations such as Tsiknopempti - the start of Greek Orthodox Lent - with barbeques and fancy dress parties. Though even then there were echos of the previous upheavals with riot police deployed against boisterous teens in the centre of Thessaloniki (see video here).
On a lighter note various news stories both here in Greece and abroad allowed to to sharpen my satirical talons. The escape of Vasilis Paleokostas and Alket Razai from the maximum security Korydallo prison Athens by helicopter for the second time produced response that mixed cynical humour and disbelief. (click here for my take on this). Also Ryanair's decision to consider introducing pay toilets on their flights gave everyone a rich source of possible jokes
More of the same; government scandals, police brutality, riots and bomb attacks in Athens. The ruling New Democracy party and prime minister Karamanlis barely had to time to talk down one politically catastrophic gaffe before another popped up freshly minted in the news. As well as reading about such events I also wrote about them for citizen journalism sites such as Nowpublic.
I also attended the Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival and followed debates about about the differences between New Media and more traditional forms. All I can say is that most of the mainstream media here in Greece are polishing the brasswork on the Titanic. "Iceberg,what iceberg?" seems to be their motto.
Already they are being badly hit by the downturn in the economy and fall in advertising revenue. Their reply so far has been to cut costs and reduce the quality of what is, to a large extent aready a pretty poor product. Wooden language, worn out formulas and a phobic fear of change is not going save them and few will mourn their demise.
For me the major event of the month was the G20 meeting in London and the killing of Ian Tomlinson by a British police officer. Even though I was at the other end of Europe the internet allowed me to follow this story in a way that would have been unthinkable, even a decade ago. Sites such as Twitter, blogs, even streaming video allowed those there to get out their story, unfiltered by the mainstream media, who seemed happy to unquestioningly lap up what the authorities had to say. So, as the saying goes,I became the media rather than just ranting about it with posts on my blog and stories elsewhere.
Thankfully, the circumstances surrounding Ian Tomlinson's tragic death following an unprovoked attack came to light despite a concerted effort by the London Metropolitan Police surpress the story. The video taken by onlookers published on the Guardian website along with several eyewitness accounts forced the authorities to backtrack in the face of evidence which called into question their version of events.
As the passed by I became more and more interested in the satirical possibilities offered by altering pictures and adding my own twist. After much hair pulling and not-infrequent pleading to the gods of computer coding I managed to become more proficient with GIMP (an open source version of Photoshop). My first target was the UK MP's expenses scandal which was breaking. Tales of politicians claiming the cost of everything from moat cleaning, to 42 inch plasma screens as legitimate expenses provided enough raw materials to keep an army of satirist in work for a lifetime. Click here for more examples.
With European parliamentary elections looming there was also ample chance to satirise targets closer to home, namely the two most important parties here in Greece, New Democracy and PASOK who were both embroiled in Siemens Athens Olympics games security contract scandal.
Although most of my lessons were finishing for summer there was plenty of other things happening to keep my busy. Election campaigning for the European elections, street parades, anti - racism festival and a semi-naked bike ride amongst other things meant that there was plenty to photograph and report about in Thessaloniki.
July saw my first wedding as a photographer and to say I was nervous is an understatement. Still. I managed to get the job done without being sued or maimed.
I decided to continue improving my photoshopping (sounds better than GIMPing) skills to make fun of targets such as the BNP and use my access to citizen journalism sites in order to expose the terrible conditions and abuses of immigrants here in Greece. Although there had been some international media coverage of what was happening, much of it lacked local knowledge or looked at the wider political context in which such ill-treatment was taking place.
Still, the month was not without excitement as I reminded myself when being hunted by police using motorbikes as they were chasing down protesters following a trial in the centre. The exact same tactics as are being used in Iran now. Draw your own conclusion.
Usually a month were most people leave the cities and head for the beaches, yet for reasons too dull to discuss at length I was stuck here in Thessaloniki. However,l not wanting to do nothing I, and friends Eleni and Orhan started a project to photograph 1000 people in the city. We still haven't finished it yet but that's just a matter of time.
Also I continued writing about the kind of stories that the mainstream media don't bother with such as police injustics, ill - treatment of immigrants and just about anything that doesn't involve party politics, sport or celebrities.
Once again party politics took centre stage as the country went to the polls for the second time in six months, this time to vote in a new national government. In contrast with previous election campaigns this one was very low key as the ruling New Democracy party went through the motions of contesting the vote, knowing full well that it had managed to severely damage the credibility of the country by massively under reporting public debt load.
At the beginning of 2009 Kostas Karamanlis's conservative administration stated that public borrowing would be less than 4% of GNP. In the end the figure was over 14% yet another concrete demonstration of their inability to do much other than put up a slick PR front.
The campaign, however, did provide a chance to take more pictures and see the leaders of all the major political parties in the flesh. Once again a smile and a confident air proved more effective than any form accreditation.
Elections came and with them the crushing defeat of New Democracy by the left wing PASOK party led by Giorgos Papandreou, son and grandson of previous prime ministers. The conservatives's scandal ridden second term lasted just two years before voters finally showed that they were no longer willing to put up with graft, ineptitude and influence peddling.
On a more painful note a very good friend of mine died after struggling with liver disease and I will always miss his humour and friendship.
Thessaloniki's Film Festival brought a much needed touch of glamour to the city and I enjoyed the experience of going to parties and openings. On the other hand the ongoing clashes between the police and the city's youth once gain came to the fore during the annual 17th November demonstrations, though this time the authorities decided to implement their new "get tough" policy with liberal use of tear gas, mass arrests and motorbike riding officers all employed to deal with the slightest hint of violence on the streets.
2009 decided to go out with a bang and not a whimper. Riots in Greece, turmoil in Copenhagen, aid covoys to Gaza and mad bomber taking hostages in a local school were just some of the events that caught my attention. A busy end to a busy year.
Like, many I am worried about what 2010 has in store for us. The economic crisis has started to hit hard and many are struggling to make ends meet even while prices keep on shooting up and jobs, even badly paid, insecure ones become harder and harder to find. The sight of old people begging or rooting through garbage bins is no longer rare or shocking. The streets ofthe city are littered with empty shops and For Sale signs, further indication that there is less and less money around. Whilst cafes and bars in the richer areas may still be full of people enjoying over priced coffee these are becoming the exception rather than the rule.
On a brighter note and despite the fact that the year started with a tragedy it ended with some great news when I learnt that my brother and his wife are expecting twins.