Friday, 18 March 2011

The Dench Diary - October 2010

The Dench Diary:
October 2010

Today I’m officially old. It’s not my birthday. Worse. I find myself using the safety rail to get out of the bath. I worry about slippery floors and make a noise when I sit down. I raise a hand mirror to the back of my pate. No man should ever do this. Someone is definitely stealing my hair. It’s the first Monday of a new month. Bedroom, get dressed, Zantac, soluble Solpadeine Plus and draw back the curtains; the room gets darker. Check the weather on the BBC, heavy rain for the next three days. Check Google Analytics – traffic to my website is down 18.27%. Check the diary for the month, oh dear. Here we go again. Check through my monocular for activity in my local. Nothing, but it is only 8.09am. This is going to be a long day. Flick through a backlog of weekend papers for inspiration. A feature in The Guardian tweaks my interest. Blackpool has applyied for UNESCO world heritage site status. If I didn’t have a family, or if they were alcoholics, I’d live in Blackpool. Well, for a year at least. It has everything I like to photograph in one place and often go there on assignment. I write a proposal to the heritage manager outlining an idea I have for a project that would involve the reputable photography degree course at Blackpool & The Fylde College. It’s a long shot but if you toss enough rocks in the pond, one day a mountain will break the surface. Won’t it?

5th Jonathan Worth calls. He’s a lecturer at Coventry University. As soon as I see the name flashing on the mobile I feel nauseous. I know what he wants. Jonathan (@jDubbyah for Twitter fans) is a good friend. We graduated together from the University of Derby. Jonathan and I were two of the few who didn’t spend the course photographing ourselves or our friends naked. He asks the question. The answer is no. I was a promising opening batsman in my teens but had to give it up. I could never quite get over the nerves of striding out to the crease in front of a crowd, the real chance of unblinking failure (with a camera you still have the thrill of being out in the middle of an event and you can fail later). I have the same sense of foreboding when asked to give a lecture. This has to be overcome. A nice little income can be earned by photographers who aren’t photographing, teaching students who probably won’t. I start scripting a talk.

6th Attend the book launch and exhibition of Infidel by Tim Hetherington at HOST Gallery in London. It’s lightly attended for a man of his stature. Events like this used to be crammed with picture editors. I don’t recognise any. I clap eyes on the Cellophane-wrapped book. I’m not paying £25 for that! Free beer later and I’m in the queue to get it signed. Ask Tim to sign it ‘To Peter without whom none of this was possible.’ He doesn’t. Once the book is in hand something peculiar happens. With Stuart Smith involved in the design it had to be special. It’s the feel and size of a Bible and becomes an object of absolute fascination. I take it on a tour of London transport. By the time I arrive at my local I’m frothing about its brilliance and thrusting it in faces like some deranged missionary. People slowly edge away.

7th I’m working on a project co-financed by [cultural organisation] Limonkraft and the European Commission’s Daphne programme. It’s been exactly a month since I was asked to contribute a photo-essay documenting second-generation migrant girls in the context of education. The deadline is December 1. I haven’t shot a frame. I’ve decided to concentrate on the South Asian community in Southall, sometimes known as Little Punjab. Around 55% of Southall’s population of 70,000 is Indian/Pakistani, with less than 10% being White British. It’s a good peg for a story and also home to one of my favourite pubs. The Glassy Junction was the first in the UK to accept rupees. It used to have exotic dancers on a Thursday. Pupils at Villiers High School in Southall represent more than 45 nationalities and languages, embracing 25 ethnic types. There’s also a college that many of the pupils progress to. Today I meet at the college at 10am, tomorrow the school. It’s critical the meetings have a positive outcome and one of them grants me licence to shoot. At 10.15am, after a two-hour nightmare commute, I call the college PR. She’s forgotten all about our appointment. She says I’ll need a Criminal Records Bureau check. I call the CRB and am told a registered institution has to apply on my behalf and the process takes 10 days. I deliver the documents and £36 fee to the college, who say it will take up to five months. In 12 years I’ve never had a CRB request before.

8th It’s 11am and I’m in a meeting with the head of Villiers School. She is enthusiastic about the migrant project. Relieved, I sit back and tuck in to a custard slice. “Oh and I have to ask, are you CRB checked?” I cough a flock of custard flecks. “No, is this a problem?” “Not really, you’ll just have to be supervised when with the pupils.” Access is everything and I’m in.

12th Thank you photography, without you I’d never have got to watch the Guru Nanak Sikh Faith School production of Macbeth as part of the Shakespeare Schools Festival 10th anniversary. Credit to the young girl who delivered without fault the words of King Duncan through a heavy lisp. I was there for act one, scene one, of my own production of Second-Generation Migrant Girls, in which three of my protagonists were performing.

14th This evening I meet Preet, co-founder of ‘Eat Natural’ food products & journalist Sally Williams. We went on commission to South Africa for a feature for the Telegraph Magazine on fair trade Macadamia Nuts. We meet at Shaka Zulu in Camden, an appalling kitsch bar and restaurant guarded by 15ft statues of African warriors with more personality than the staff. Sally is fresh of the plane from Uganda, the charities own snapper took the pics and also shot video. Another startling reminder I need to make the move into moving media fast.

15th I wake with the sense I’ve done something wrong; a job for the Scottish Sunday Herald throbs into view. I’m to shoot the notorious Walworth Road [in South London], as a photographic community service; £180 all in minus 25%, as it came through an agent. My wife reminds me it would take a week working in the canteen of Capital Radio to earn this. It doesn’t help. My daughter tries to rouse me with a rendition of Merrily We Roll Along on the recorder. It doesn’t help. The shoot is plodding and pedestrian. In the evening I head off to a Navratri Garba Festival to meet two of the migrant girls. It’s an hour-and-a-half journey. Leaving in haste, I ignore one of my sacred shoot rules, always dress smart. Good trousers open doors. I was on assignment in Monaco for the Sunday Times Magazine with two days to woo the world of wealth. Armed with press pass and linen slacks I breezed on to a yacht party where current ruler Prince Albert II was in attendance and got to say “CHEERS” with Ted Danson. An invite to an exclusive White Theme party followed. Bejewelled models in swimsuits ushered me in. Hot women in PVC nurses’ outfits raised my temperature. That was a good day and they were good trousers. Back at the dance I am the only white man in a hall of thousands, standing in threadbare socks, faded jeans and T-shirt staring at a rotating whirl of impeccably dressed sirens, looking for two 15-year-old girls. I abandon the hall and start asking giggling groups what school they go to. This is not a good strategy. Some boys overhear and put me out of my misery, they’re not coming. This has been a disastrous day and definitely the wrong trousers.

19th I’m back at Villiers photographing 15-year-old girls in lessons and at lunch. I am 23 years older – 20 years older than 18-year-olds. When I was 16, 18-year-old girls seemed 10 years older. I ask the girls how old they think I am: “43?” Purchase a copy of the Southall Gazette with the headline story: ‘School worker is accused of having unlawful relationships with nine under-age girls.’ I fold it away and call the heads PA to confirm shooting a PE lesson, netball and trampoline club.

20th Evening drinks with the charismatic Tom Knox (when he’s writing novels) or Sean Thomas (when he’s being a journalist). The latter once made the front page of The People for his involvement in a posh sex scandal. Thomas Knox and I have worked on many features, including trips to a Spanking Festival and Europe’s Largest Brothel (12 floors of whores, the busiest day is Christmas Day; insert gag here). He’s just back from a remarkable two-month trip to Peru. I tried to cajole the commissioning magazine to send me with him. Finances dictated a local snapper. A trip to Easter Island beckons. He suggests I inform the magazine I’d pay for my own flights or take a half day-rate.

25th The Photographers’ Gallery in London is closed until autumn 2011. Tonight it is having the first of its off-site socials, a screening and talk on street photography. The bar is crammed with beautiful, slightly sweaty enthusiasts. I talk with a smouldering Oxford grad working as a BBC journalist who wants to be a photographer, and a Cambridge grad who’s just bicycled around the world, is into watercolours and poetry, and wants to be a photographer. A lawyer who sounds like an Oxford grad with an interest in photography explains that we can photograph children and the police on the street at any time of day or night. It’s been an education.

27th I’m sitting on a high stool. The left side of my body has gone numb. The lights are bright. I think I’m about to have a stroke. My drink is out of reach. There’s an audience. All of this is being streamed live on the internet. Welcome to Canon Pro Photo Solutions 2010 at the Business Design Centre in Islington. Last night I was at the Nikon D7000 event, but that’s another column; just to say I woke this morning with a signed wooden spoon in my pocket. Back on the stool I opt for the dehydration = numbness scenario and stoically continue with the interview. My mum might be watching. Afterwards I feel better. Must’ve been nerves but am glad I did it. Head off to read the Mirror and not think about cameras. So much kit-chat, I’ve been living in a Clive Booth column.

28th Had a request from a German magazine for shots to illustrate a feature including a Bearskin Hat, Queues for Red Buses, Ladies Having Tea, A Gentleman’s Club and A Red Telephone Box with cards advertising adult services. Think they’ve watched too many Ealing Comedies and head out to deliver. Find a phone box splattered with ads but the sun is in the wrong place. Stuff the ads in my bag and try to find another box to put them in. It’s not photojournalism at its purest but I haven’t got much time. There was no need, find a perfectly sunned advertised box round the corner. In the evening I arrive for dinner at the home of one of the girls from my ‘migrant’ project. The family are Pakistani Muslims and I pick up a box of vegetarian sweets on the way. The evening is very comfortable and welcoming as I go about snapping their home life. During dinner I ask questions and reach into my bag for notepaper. ‘BIG TIT LADY NEEDS A SPANK’; I’m sure you do, my soaped-up lovely, but now is not the time. I fold the phone box ad and stuff it in my pocket. I think it goes unnoticed.

29th Today I take the day off and lie in bed. This morning after a swim I fell on a wet floor and hurt my back.

Taken from the December 2010 issue of Professional Photographer Magazine, back issues are available on their website

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