Z is for Zagreb, in Croatia. The early 1990’s, Eastern Europe was falling apart, or getting itself together, which ever your point of view is.
I’d gone there on a whim with a fellow snapper, the ever-a-good-pal NooYawker. London to the Balkans.
We wandered the streets, NooYawker saw a vision, the shadow of Christ’s crown of thorns on a wall and below it a gypsy mother and kid sitting on the ground. Meanwhile I was holding our place in the queue for the bakery to buy some lunch snack and could only watch as he shot the visionary moment.
We wandered more. It became evening, it rained heavy, but the light shone on the wet cobble stones and tram lines. We thought it great fun, photographing shadows and light, rain and stones, people scurrying, a soldier laughing. All great fun. Then the police came and asked us who we were and what we were doing, they wanted to see our passports, and got told to be on our way, get in out of the rain, you’re making people suspicious.
We wandered more and met other journalists and snappers. Alexandra Boulat was there, we’d all met in Romanian previously, and now here we were on the next stop of the Eastern Europe tour. She told us of an imminent press conference and somehow in the days to come NooYawker and I got there, to Brno. A press conference with the 6 heads of the states that at that time made up the soon to fall apart Yugoslavia.
I forget the details but remember the room, a big room, and the top table was far away in the viewfinders of our Leica’s and their 35mm lenses. Although I think I was also shooting on my Nikon and a 180mm lens, but even that was too short.
Recently I found some transparencies of the event, Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic in the same room, the other less household name leaders with them also – one with a big moustache, one an old man who looks like he should be sitting on a park bench.
In a few of the transparencies, seemingly not from the press conference, it’s obvious I’m shooting from about 4 feet away from Slobodan Milosevic, not a moment I can recall in memory but I have the transparency to tell me I was there and saw it, shot it. Only one problem is that in all the pics I’m shooting at a poor angle, and there’s no clear view of his face, only the right side of his face, and from slightly behind. Three or four feet away from a despot war criminal. Jeez, could have seized the moment and changed history.
We wandered more, exploring the streets of Zagreb, and out into the countryside with a journalist from The Independent to photograph a demonstration/political rally.
We wandered for a week I think, and on our last day found a cultural event in the park near the Zagreb train station. Men in folk dress with musical instruments, we shot and shot, rolls of Tri-x going through the Leica’s. One eye on the train time to get to the airport. And we shot more, another roll of Tri-X, then I notice something strange. NooYawker’s lens was all misted up, behind his filter was a layer of condensation, and it being a viewfinder he’d not noticed. All those rolls of Tri-X were going to have foggy blurry images. I smiled, found it funny, he was of course thoroughly upset. It was time to leave.
And so we wandered no more, we boarded our train to Ljubljana I think, to fly home. But the train inched along, stopped for what seemed like hours. Time was ticking away, our stress levels and worry rising. Finally somehow, we got to the airport, there may have been a taxi involved. But I remember running into the airport shouting “London, London”. Somehow we made it. And even now I can see the aisle of the plane as we walk down it, covered in sweat from the run and stress, other passengers looking at us. Another escapade with my good friend NooYawker coming to an end.