In last weeks entry, I posted some images from my most recent trip to Malta over Easter, and I promised that I'd go into shooting the procession in a little more detail. So here goes...
To start with, I'd been planning this for some time. I'd gathered from quite a bit of research that the Good Friday procession in Zejtun is one of the best of the Easter parades in Malta.
I'm not a particularly religious person myself, if at all, but the Maltese are steeped in their Roman Catholic traditions, and the background of the island reads like a Who's Who of European history. From the Romans to the Moors, and the British empire to the blanket carpet bombing by the Germans in the second World War. The island has been through it all, and this is reflected in the culture. The Catholic church however plays a very dominant role. In each town or village you will find at least one church belonging to a particular saint, and the Maltese people spend half the year celebrating these saints, especially in the summer months when every weekend there is at least one festival or another taking place somewhere in one of the towns or villages. These generally involve the whole town, huge feasts and firework displays of the like you have never seen. One of the highlights of each town's calendar is the Good Friday procession, and Zejtun in particular is the place to be for this.
I arrived in the town a couple of hours before the parade was due to start with the intention of scoping out the route and working out where the best vantage points were going to be. I wanted to have a couple of options minimum in my pocket, and as the procession was scheduled to last for at least two hours I wanted a few different scenes or locations in which to shoot it. I milled around for a while walking the route, and shooting a little background. At the same time I got chatting to a few of the local policeman with a view to getting my face known and trying to get on their friendly side in the event that for whatever reason it should all go wrong and I either needed their help, or at least needed them not to hinder me whilst I was trying to work.
About an hour before the procession was due to start, the crowds began to gather and I found a great spot directly opposite the main entrance to St. Catherine's church from where the procession would walk towards me for about 10 yards and then turn and began it's meander round the streets. I decided that this was going to be the spot from which I would begin my coverage and "marked" my spot. As 5 o'clock grew nearer, the square got more and more congested, but I still had an unobstructed view of the doorway. Then the tv crews arrived and a bunch of little old ladies barged their way in infront of me. I couldn't really begrudge the women the space as they were really quite small and there was no way they were going to see from anywhere else. The tv crew were a different story altogether. They had erected a rather flimsy 12 foot high gantry about 10 feet to my left on a very busy corner forcing people to squeeze between it and a crash barrier in front of which people were already congregated. This brought about a great deal of needless jostling and a torrent of abuse from the cameraman up top every time someone knocked into the gantry. But the rather overweight camera man who was up in front of the church doors continually thrusting his camera into every parade members' face getting into every shot I tried to make was a right royal pain in the ass. I appreciate that he was only trying to do his job, but he made it extremely hard work for us still shooters.
Once the parade began I had to work really hard continually composing and re-composing to avoid getting him in any of my shots. It was working but standing on the same spot for 2 hours solidly continually waving around a 70-200 2.8 got awfully wearing after a while. I then decided it was time to move out and find another scene or two. Easier said than done. I was trapped. The crowd was so dense that even if I'd needed to, I couldn't have gotten out. I had to bide my time until there was a short lull in the proceedings, and make a break for it. Laden up with a Lowepro rucksack, tripod and two bodies didn't exactly make for an easy squeeze through the crowd and I'm sure that I must have duffed at least two or three people on the head with my tripod by accident.
Eventually I got out. Once I'd managed to get the blood circulating in my legs again, I dashed off to the other side of town and shot some of the procession as it meandered through the quaint narrow streets.
The procession itself is quite a sombre slow moving affair consisting of many biblical characters. Roman soldiers feature heavily as do statues that represent the final hours of Jesus Christ before he was crucified. The detail that goes into the costumes is phenomenal especially the Roman Centurions. They really were incredible. As was the length of the procession. I'd estimate that there were probably around 500 people involved and it must have been over a mile long.
I would have loved to have been able to stick around longer and capture some of the procession once the sun had gone down, but alas it was not to be. All in all a very worthwhile trip though and a must see if you're ever over in Malta at Easter.
For more images from the Good Friday Easter procession in Zejtun, Malta visit the gallery here.