The Dench Diary:
7th: I’ve a shoot for the Guardian Weekend. This is a surprise. I’d written them off the regular client list. My contacts had largely moved on and my last conversation with the picture desk revealed they’d be working their contract photographers harder. In 2003 they sent me to Jamaica to shoot a nine-page cover story on Jamaican gigolos and the white middle-class women who go there for a taste of the ‘Big Bamboo’. I’m reminded of this on today’s shoot, a portrait in Brixton; there’s the whiff of Jamaica on arrival. Despite the welcome call, the editorial walls are tumbling down and I’m riddled with dread. Talk with VII agency snapper Marcus Bleasdale about my concerns. He’s just been paid five figures giving a workshop in Kashmir. He’s a different league but it’s a thought. Perhaps I could give a UK workshop on how to press the national self-hate button.
9th: It’s time I had a book. A decade of snapping the English is shaping up. There’s a movement called ‘Self Publish, Be Happy’, Photofusion is hosting workshops for £375; this doesn’t sound like a fairytale beginning and I’m unconvinced. I grew up in love with Cornerhouse Publications, a book for me is the Holy Grail of photography but it has to be ‘properly’ published; Dewi Lewis, Chris Boot, Steidl, Contrasto, I’d even take a Taschen. It’s a long and daunting process but I think I’m ready. I’ve spent months intermittently preparing files for a Blurb book dummy. When it arrives, the images are all wonky. I give Caroline Cortizo a call and arrange a lunch date. She’s an image producer and master of her craft, having worked on projects including the UK At Home book, The Obama Time Capsule (a print-on-demand book with Against All Odds) and i-Witness with Tom Stoddart.
13th: Lunch with Caroline is everything I expected, inspiring, informative and honest. She explains her current take on the world of books. It sounds shut. She explains with a poignant example involving the difficult process of getting Eugene Richards’s multi-award winning War is Personal project into print. A fascinating lunch ends four hours later. Caroline has restricted herself to three pints and the beef salad; I had the fish and chips. The bill comes to £75, seems I was thirsty. I arrive home five hours later, having forgotten to collect one of my unsold Foto8 Summer Show prints. The other has a second chance of purchase at the Crane Kalman Gallery in Brighton.
14th A parcel from the Get XoPhoto Festival arrives. In it are a book, coasters and a wall chart. They distributed 3,000 coasters with six images from my Drinking of England project. The bars’ locations are marked on the wall chart by a wine glass, seems appropriate. I start packaging sets of the coasters for a mail out to advertising agencies as a ‘DESKTOP DENCH’ exhibition.
15th Last month I was commissioned to shoot a five-day feature on ‘Traditional London’ for a German magazine. I find it difficult to shoot creatively on the street for more than six hours a day and it’s become prolonged. Today I stride out with purpose to nail the job and find ‘Posh Schoolboys’ and ‘City Drinkers’ to photograph.
17th I like Fridays. I walk my daughter Grace to school, inhale the world of yummy mummies, back home to do a bit of work on the computer before returning to pick her up. There’s another book on the doorstep, the Sony World Photography Awards 2010. It’s five months since the awards ceremony but worth the wait. It looks, feels and smells great. You don’t get that with an iPad. I should invent a ‘real book smell’ app. It includes meaty contributions from Pellegrin, Stirton, Astrada and 14 pages of photos by Magnum legend Eve Arnold. I won second place in the advertising category and my image spans two pages near the centre. I’m pleased to be involved. Even more pleased to discover I’m their ‘Photographer of the Month’ with an online interview about the winning image and a separate gallery from the England Uncensored project. This is shaping up to be a fabulous day as I get to work Tweeting and Facebooking the news. I even call my Mum. By lunchtime, however, the freelance reality bubble has started to deflate. Despite me feeling a success, the diary rudely admits to only one commissioned day’s pay. The bubble parps its last when I go to pick up Grace. A successful commercial photographer lives at the end of my road. Our daughters are in the same class. That’s where the similarities end. I often see him burning up Crouch End in one of his personalised motors. I think today it was the EOS 1D. I ask Grace what she wants to do. “Go to the pub and eat chewy sweets, Daddy.” This perks me up. I’m not a father to disappoint.
18th Photojournalism may be dead but the trigger finger of this photojournalist still twitches, so off to shoot the Pope. Well, at least buy the T-shirt to photograph as a still life piece of contemporary art later. The last comparable event in London I tried to photograph was Diana’s funeral. Her coffin passed as I was photographing the price sticker on the sole of a young lady’s shoe. The enduring image for me from that day was a shot of her coffin heading north on a deserted motorway. Today I aspire to the discipline of David Modell, the photograph’s creator. It’ll be interesting to see what images come from the Pope’s visit. I don’t envy the news and agency snappers. I once got lumped in with them on a commission for the Sunday Times Magazine to shoot a feature on the Queen’s royal tour to South Africa. We’d arrive on the bus three hours early. The pack would dash to the same spot and wait. Liz would eventually show up, they’d shoot for seconds, dash back to the bus, swap and send files. It was a lesson to be able to shoot around the periphery and the approach I’ll take today. During the morning I bump into three snappers, all Getty.
In the afternoon I meet Maciej Dakowicz (check out his brilliant Cardiff at Night) and Joni Karanka who run the Third Floor Gallery in Cardiff. They kicked off the gallery with LoveUK, my first major UK solo show. They’re in good form and off to the Street Photography Now book launch; Maciej has four pages. I buy them both a pint before heading off to a neighbourhood street party and afterwards party with friends where I take the best pictures of the day of the kids dancing around.
20th: An email request has arrived out lining a project being co-financed by the European Commission. The request has come as a direct result of exhibiting at GetXoPhoto. I’ve been asked to produce a photo essay documenting the social integration of second-generation migrant girls from North Africa and South Asia. Six countries will contribute work for an exhibition in San Sebastian, Spain, in June next year as well as inclusion in a catalogue and on awareness posters. I will be paid 1,500 Euros. This is serious stuff and I begin the research. I used to pitch editorial story ideas regularly until response to them dwindled. Firing up the old investigative brain cells again proves hard work.
22nd: Blurb replaced my wonky book. It arrived with a ‘Clarisonic Skin Cleansing System’, an interesting customer service strategy. Fire off an application for the National Media Museum 2010 Photography Awards for early career and emerging photographers. I’ve been emerging for more than a decade. I want to arrive. Continue research for my European Commission initiative on migrant girls, enquiries so far have met with an eruption of silence. I can’t stop previsualising my images as minimum depth-of-field, solemn-looking portraits. If I went to war would I shoot grainy black and white? Must remember to be true to my style and work this to an advantage.
23rd: My commercial agent has called. It’s been a while. There’s the possibility of a small ad job. I’m very fond of my agent. They’re the ‘grandes dames’ of advertising who made their money representing car photographers in the 1980s. I’m worried they might retire. When I left a previous agency in 2005 I owed over £35,000 on credit cards. They got me an eight-day job that paid it off. Admittedly over the years, my roving liver has slugged a proportion of it back. Lately, however, the situation has become a little frustrating. I’ve had a great year in terms of releasing projects, having work shown at major festivals, and would like to pipe that exposure to the commercial world. I’m World Photography Organisation Photographer of the Month, you know! It may be time to put the ‘grass is greener’ fingers out and head off to some appointments in town. Afterwards, my impressions are I’m already sunbathing on the right side of the fence.
24th: I receive a copy of PP Magazine with the first instalment of The Dench Diary, fold it under my arm and stride towards my local, this calls for a drink. I stop halfway, saturated with dread. I know what it says but what was I thinking? Photographers are supposed to present themselves as flawless models of success. It all seemed rather innocuous ensconced at home. I feel like the Penn & Teller of photography. Sod it. The shiny pro approach hasn’t made me rich. I order a double and read the interview with Tim Hetherington first. Tim and I were on the World Press Joop Swart Masterclass in 2002, an initiative bringing 12 promising young photographers together in Amsterdam for a week of mass debate. Since then, Tim’s career has taken him to the Civil War in Liberia and the trenches of Afghanistan. I’ve been to a nudist resort and dwarf convention. I give my effort the once over and order a bottle. Darlings I’m a writer, scrub that, a columnist. I’m drinking for two professions now.
25th: This weekend I’m away at a family wedding in Sheffield. I’m not the photographer. Even my own relatives have stopped employing me.
29th: My computer has a virus. Every time I log on to the internet I see pictures by Simon Roberts. Even the more obscure sites. The man’s a marketing rash, a one-man modern handbook on self-promotion. I’m hoping to catch some tips this evening and have RSVP’d a seat at a talk he’s giving about the Election Project at London’s Host Gallery. I’ve a quick portrait to shoot first for Stern magazine and head into the kind of weather you dread as a colour photographer. The journalist has a clear idea of what images should illustrate the feature. They often do. I photograph a Korean economist at a newsagents, vacuum cleaner shop, in the toilets of an All Bar One and at the hairdressers. The talk provides useful nuggets on the logistics of planning a big project but I duck out early to catch theend of Champions League action.
30th: I wake late and agitated. Last night I dreamt of Simon Roberts.