Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Dench Diary - January 2011

1st “Awful pictures every single one of them. Bad compositions, wrong exposures, the kind of photos drunk people take at parties with a cheap point-and-shoot camera. Gives real photographers a bad name.” The name is Dench. Peter Dench. In February 2010 the Sun newspaper ran a centre spread of my images on England with an accompanying online gallery. This quote is a response from Nickjlt posted in October. It was one of the gentler ones. He must have been pondering his reply for eight months. Today is 1/1/11; the barrel of a new year presses the temple. A year loaded with expectation, foreboding, paranoia, hope and solutions for a toned abdomen. I’m reviewing 2010 looking for the positives to kick-start 2011. I think Nickjlt is one. I would have expected Sun readers to connect positively with the work, to recognise something familiar of themselves or their country. (The tabloid was a fixture in my adolescent household). Nickjlt, I will do better, I will learn to compose and expose. Sun readers everywhere, you shall be my inspiration.
5th The first day back at work for many and I’m determined to meet it head on. Now is the time. Hit the year square on the nose. My mind’s blank, I don’t know what to do. Looking in the fridge I find a ghost of Christmas past, a corked bottle of Pinot Grigio. I divide it into two pint glasses, top up with soda water and begin to spritz it back in the hope it will help me decide what to do. It does. I decide to go to the pub. Flicking through the papers for ideas and good news I chance across my horoscope in the Daily Mirror. Taurus declares, “Later in the year Uranus is getting stressed under a relationship with Pluto... you won’t be laughing when the planet of shock falls out with the planet of loss.” Brilliant, nothing to look forward to except a stressed Uranus. I return home and settle down with a six-pack and meet the assembled cast on the oche starring at the BDO World Darts in Frimley Green. A man howls like a wolf. A clip is played of another walking an invisible dog on a pink lead. The year is looking up. As the cans slip back I formulate a plan to kidnap commentator Bobby ‘Midas’ George and bundle him down to CashMyGold.
6th These are the dark times. Depressed, lonely and lacking any creative libido, I can’t get out of bed and stay ridden until noon. In an effort, collect the post and open a package containing the book Closing Time by Kevin Casey, 81 photographs of the lost pubs of Liverpool. I mourn each page, every picture a tombstone. I didn’t order this! Who would be cruel enough to send it? Since I’ve been asleep two more pubs are likely to have closed. I can only do so much.
10th The phone rings at 9.15am. Stern, leading German news magazine and loyal client, books me for a job. The year is afoot! At 2.22pm, the phone rings. Leading German news magazine Stern cancels the booking. I am not disheartened, for today I am the ‘all expenses paid’ guest judge at the Kentish Photography Club. We meet at the Blind Dog in Canterbury, an aptly named venue for a gathering of snappers. Earlier I had judged the club entries on landscape. After an initial round of fours and fives for the two pictures submitted by each member I showed them to my daughter. She liked them and commented that photography “isn’t a real job, Daddy”. I scurried to put an extra pen mark over the scores. Back in the Blind Dog I survey the anticipated ensemble. First to be judged is the gloriously buoyant Agnes. I wield her an eight out of ten, my second highest score, and search those Estonian blues for moist adulation. Agnes is unmoved. The score for her second image is six. Local hotshot, commercial photographer and club co-organiser Jason Dodd, whispers that the lowest mark he has ever given is six. I continue to throw out the scores with the lethal precision of Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor. At one point I think some members might leave. At another I think perhaps I should. The evening is salvaged and I give a quick presentation and hand out the gongs, a trophy to 2010 overall winner Paul Spree and a signed ‘Dench’ to the most improved, Steve Baker.
11th Jason emails through the KPC ceremony snaps. Another email arrives from the member I marked lowest, well joint lowest; there were three least of the low. I’m thanked for my time and insight and told it was a turning point and springboard to do better. Later that evening I apply the same strategy and score my wife a five out of ten. It doesn’t meet with the same positive response.
12th Inspired by the company and productivity of KPC members (I’ve not yet shot a frame) I decide to stop being such a sad sack whimpering about my predicament, and embrace the future. It’s time to do something significant. With one eye on the body clock the decades are ticking low. A project I return to often for inspiration is August Sander’s People of the 20th Century, a collective portrait of German society. In the Sander spirit I have tried a couple of test shoots for my UK interpretation. Once, I erected a backdrop next to the dance floor at, the nation’s favourite themed night out. On another it was erect backstage at Miss Leeds. The results were pleasing. I’ve an initial list of other groups and locations I’d like to feature, and get to work sending out requests. Riding a new-found optimism for the year I prepare my submission for Visa pour l’Image 2011, which are being received until 31 March. The French festival of photojournalism held in Perpignan each September has screened five of my projects in the previous eight years. Having an exhibition is a greater achievement. This year I haven’t a new project. In a cheeky manoeuvre I edit from my archive, slap on a new title and request a retrospective.
17th Today is Blue Monday, statistically the most depressing day of the year. Turn on the radio. Nicky Campbell reports that the average age of children being abused has fallen from 15 years old to 13. In an odd effort to cheer up listeners they play some ABBA. I turn off the radio. In October 2010 Thames & Hudson published the book Street Photography Now, featuring 46 of the “world’s best street photographers,” I wasn’t included, perhaps I was number 47. It has taken time, but my pride has recovered enough to order a copy; it arrived today. It’s a beautiful book with worthy contributors, Trent Parke and Lars Tunbjörk my highlight. Consumed by all things street photography I deliver 85 files for late inclusion in the FORMAT Festival running in Derby from 4 March to 3 April.
18th Off to attend Orphaned and Ostracised – HIV in Africa, a talk by Carol Allen-Storey hosted at the Frontline Club. It’s a serious topic for a serious club. Up the stairs past the Robert Capa prints; if you run fast you can pretend to be landing on the D-Day beaches. Glass of red in hand I’m seated under the Marc Riboud next to the coat rack; the scent of shed women’s outerwear cloys around. I first met Carol at the Sony World Photography Awards VIP dinner in Cannes last year. A fascinating, fizzing redhead and 100 words a minute New Yorker talker. She had me hooked by the fish starter. While the images aren’t exceptional (but then I am in the company of James Nachtwey and Larry Burrows’s work) Carol is and her passion and commitment unquestionable. I look over at Don McCullin’s Shell-Shocked Soldier, Hue, Vietnam, and momentarily feel a fraud. Carol explains about returning to her subject time and again. On each visit she takes an album of photographs from the previous trip to help build a relationship in the picture-making progress. Photojournalism is alive and well tonight, although the subjects of the images don’t look like they will be for long. The audience questions are Paxmanesque. I decide not to ask what film she used (think it was TRI-X). The applause is loud, the lights are on and we’re back in the room. The 70% majority female audience form a fine denier flock. There are many I recognize and I start to say hello, then realize I don’t know most of them but have become familiar with their LinkedIn thumbnail and profile. I shall social network with them in the morning, retreat down the beaches of Normandy and head into the cold neon-lit night.
20th Today’s forecast, scattered drinking, becoming heavy later. Tonight is the Telegraph Magazine’s belated new year party. Historically they’ve been my most prolific employer. Since my first contributing feature in June 1998 more than 25 have followed, including seven covers. Things have slowed. My last commission was in March 2010, a feature on cheese, and I pitched it. I’d like to ask what’s happened but probably won’t. Many there I consider friends rather than employers; might ruin a good drink. I meet image producer Caroline Cortizo first before we trot over to Mayfair and the Tempo Club in search of the bar. Picture editor Cheryl Newman points the way. I consider Chezza among the best and she’s responsible for some of my career highs. One was spending a week with Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya, who owns United Breweries. We flew from London to New Delhi on his private Airbus corporate jet. A £1 million upgrade had included a bedroom, office, dining table and bar with two billionaire-standard barmaids. Announcements for take-off were considered vulgar. Only as we taxied the runway did I decide to sup up and belt up. Mallya idly leafed through a helicopter brochure; someone no longer on his Christmas card list had shot down a previous chopper. The week was spent in a machine-gun protected air-conditioned bubble of privilege, attending his 51st birthday on Indian Empress, one of the largest private yachts in the world, a welcome experience; I even ate off a silver platter. Shame Lionel Richie wasn’t coming this year, would have been nice to say Hello. Back at the TM party Chezza pencils me in for a spring commission. Sweep past fashion photographer Julian Broad to say hello to Team Telegraph: Sheth, Greenacre, Campbell, Captain Lavery, and rock up to comfy-looking Gary ‘lotsa huggin’ Cochran. The bar tab soon dwindles.
25th I’m in the village of Farndon, Cheshire, standing outside Paul ‘my rock’ Burrell’s flower shop. Not my rock, but that of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. I’m here on assignment for Stern (they’re back) to shoot a portrait of the former royal butler. “I can spot a paparazzo a mile off ” comes the pronounced voice behind and Paul guides me into the shop past a picture of Diana, and upstairs into a room where photographs of the royal family eagerly await my arrival. I explain once excusing myself from the Queen’s company to get a refill; apparently not protocol. Maybe I should have offered to get her one. The shoot runs smoothly and Burrell is an engaging host. I’m served tea, given a lift in his ‘Chitty’ to the station and handed a signed copy of his book The Way We Were – Remembering Diana. Reading it on the train has the women at my table in a Diana dither. It’s a late and welcome fee for the month. A battle of superhero proportions is imminent. Dual-faced villain TAXVAT-Man beats an angry path to my door. I stand ready, slightly unsteady, your friendly, neighbourhood Imbiber-Man. You can hear me in person each month on the Professional Photographer podcast, available on iTunes or on the website at;

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