Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Dench Diary : April 2011

This month I find myself hustling for drinks on a flight to Jamaica, treading the red carpet at the Sony World Photography Awards and brushing off my suit for a very important wedding.

2nd I’m standing behind the bar at the Red Lion Hotel in Southall, West London. It’s not a change of career; I’m here for the one-day Cricket World Cup final between India and Sri Lanka. The match is being played in Mumbai, India. On 24 September 2007 I was in a Mumbai hotel watching the World Twenty20 Cup final between India and Pakistan being played in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was on assignment for the Telegraph Magazine documenting the launch of Vogue India. I’d just flown back from Jodhpur and a remarkable night at the golden yellow, Art Deco, Taj Umaid Bhawan Palace, home of the current Maharaja. I was originally booked to stay at a more modest venue but informed that no, I was to stay at the palace itself. En route to relocate, I passed German fashion snapper Jurgen Teller (He didn’t remember me from the two days cutting up and stacking contact sheets at his studio in 1997). I worked and partied hard under the Rajasthani night sky as the rhythmic sounds of superstar DJ Donna D’Cruz musically massaged the buttocks of the models, Bollywood stars and Fahionistas dancing in the lush 26-acre gardens. The Twenty20 final was won by India and the Mumbai streets were rammed with crazed fans delaying my arrival at the airport to within a Chapatti of departure. The 200 or so Indians wedged into the Red Lion are also going crazy after India’s triumph today. I’ve been photographing on and off in Southall for years and today was another opportunity to add to the project, where a man with a camera would be welcome. I even got to drink for free.

4th It's 2pm. Sitting in the lobby of BBC Television Centre I keep an eye on the revolving door for Tanya. Tanya describes herself as Blonde wearing a striped red scarf. She is correct. We are to shadow Newsnight presenter Mishal Hussein for eight hours to run as a feature in Stylist Magazine. I’m looking forward to the next eight hours - a chance to strike up a rapport with Mishal, watch the buzz of a newsroom develop and shoot a concise set of images. After a few frames during a 10-minute interview and a few more during a coffee meeting, I find myself back on the wind-whipped street in the Westfield Shopping Centre. We’ve been advised nothing much will happen until around 6pm and should occupy our time. I was hoping to get fed and watered by the BBC PR so I'm unprepared. Tanya suggests a long lunch, which would be nice, but I’ve been let down on a January invoice and only have £5.80 in my pocket. I make my excuses and head into The Defectors Weld, trade in my cash for a large Tempranillo and bag of Mini-Cheddars, and sip out the hours in a corner with the newspapers. Back at the BBC I shoot for several minutes in hair and make-up and six on-set at rehearsals before the show airs live at 10.30pm, then I'm turned out to catch a late tube home.

6th This morning I’m booked in to for a prostate cancer check. I’ve been told this would be a simple blood test. I have been grossly misinformed.

7th Linen trousers - check. Sun cream - check. “Oh Kingston town. The place I long to be. If I had the whole world. I would give it away. Just to see, the girls at play. Ooh, ooh, ooh.” Packing for Jamaica it’s hard not to sing-a-long with UB40’s Ali Campbell. Plug adapter - check. Bug spray - check. “There are wanders for everyone. The stars shine so bright. But they’re fading after dawn. There is magic in Kingston town.” Tomorrow I fly out on assignment to Kingston for the Telegraph magazine to shoot reportage at the premier of Fire in Babylon, a documentary of how the West Indies cricket team triumphed over its colonial masters through the achievements of one of the most gifted teams in sporting history. I look forward to receiving my share of the “…wanders for everyone” and tap a quick search for Kingston into Google. “In a holiday idyll, coffins are filled faster than they can be buried with the bodies of young men dragged from their homes and shot by police. They killed 382 Jamaicans last year alone.” (Mailonline). Ah. Combat trousers - check. Non-slip running shoes - check.

8th Flying economy on a nine-and-a-half-hour flight needs a plan, and the plan is to drink. There’s no photography to do when I land so I initiate a strategy that starts by changing my seat online to one right at the back of the plane. The back usually has empty rows and is nearest to the bar. Upon boarding I say hello to all the stewardesses; I'm dressed reasonably smart and show that I’m reading TIME magazine. The disadvantage of sitting at the back is that you’re served last, so I stutter a soft request for a few cans before they begin service. As the two aisle trolleys back unevenly towards me I shuffle across a row to the one arriving first and back to the other to double my quota, then ask for two drinks with my dinner and anyone not drinking nearby to request a red wine in return for my pudding. Job done I assess the haul and embark on a kind of Gulliver's Travels through the mini cellar watching The King’s Speech and The Fighter. During the flight I meet Telegraph sportswriter Simon Briggs for the first time. We are both horrified to discover we’re booked to share a room. Perhaps the PR-Company organizing the trip read the Mailonline article and thought we’d be safer together. In my 13-year career I’ve only had to share a room with a writer once, and that was with one I’d worked with on many occasions and with whom I had become friends. Checking in at the hotel, after one effective tantrum from Simon, I find myself staring at the ceiling from the queen-size bed in a room of my own, and reflect that my last act of intimacy was with the index finger of my GP.

9th The day is spent at the Kingston Cricket Club photographing West Indies legends Michael Holding and Colin Croft before attending pre-premier evening drinks where I’m seeing red - lot’s of red. Scarlet drops of pure Jamaican beauty pulse through the bodies of the Digicel promo girls. Eavesdropping on eager 'man' conversations I discover that they all appear to share the same name 'Hello I'vegotaboyfriend'. The evening passes in a throb of Caribbean colour and cocktails before heading off to Club Fiction to party alongside sprinter, Usain Bolt and former West Indies cricket captain Chris Gayle.

10th After a morning portrait for the Daily Telegraph of Sadiki Bolt (Usain’s brother) at the Melbourne Cricket Club, I return to the hotel to work on the digital files, which are required the day I land back in the UK. There’s a knock at the door. It’s Sky Sports cameraman Dan Reston, also in Kingston reporting on the premier. Dan has befriended a couple of locals willing to take us out for the day. Hesitation, a glance at the 30C sunshine, raid of the fridge and I’m swinging my man bag into the back of our ride. First stop Hellshire - not a County inhabited solely by Daily Mail readers but a gorgeous beach where we feast on freshly-caught fried lobster and watch the locals ride horses and deal with wayward freshwater Crocodiles. Thirteen hours after leaving the hotel and a last stop at Club 38, I arrive back keen for a nightcap. Cool cut receptionist Stephanie informs, “The bar’s closed you’ll have to order room service.” Back in the room I dial, “Hello room service, Stephanie speaking.” “Four Heineken please.” “Would that conclude your order?” “Yes Stephanie, it would.”

20th I’m in my hometown of Weymouth on an Easter break with my six-and-a-half-year-old daughter Grace. It’s a glorious day. We paddle in the sea, spend pennies in the arcade, ride on ‘Sparky’ the Donkey, row in a boat and hook for crabs. In the evening I give her a bath, wash her hair. She chooses Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss for a bedtime story. Exhausted and content, she slowly fades to sleep. At some point during the day a mortar is fired in Misrata, Libya ending the life of Photojournalist Tim Hetherington - a friend of mine as he was of many. I give Grace an extra cuddle and turn of the light. I’ll miss you Tim.

27th A line of snappers snake past me - some are smirking. At the front of the line are two women in gym wear - one is carrying a Frisbee. It looks promising so I join the end. The line arcs to a halt in front of the magnificent fountains at Somerset House. The ladies stretch and bounce. One does a star jump then practices yoga. The snapping is frenzied. A reflector is unfolded. Assessing the scene I suspect I’m in the middle of an iRobphoto workshop. Retreat to the comfort of Tom’s Kitchen and the sun terrace, where I cleanse my palette with some Prosecco and munch through a crayfish tail, watermelon, basil and spiced peanut crumb salad. I’m at the new home of the 2011 World Photography Festival which is bustling with portfolio reviews, seminars, talks and workshops. Tonight is the Sony World Photo Awards presentation at the Odeon cinema Leicester Square. Having placed 2nd in the advertising category 2010 and treated myself to an eyewitness trip to Cannes, I’m keen to see how successful the relocation to London has been. A ticket was promised by post for tonight. It didn’t arrive. The PR has assured me it will be available for collection at the Odeon. It is. I’m not VIP enough to qualify for the after-gala dinner at the InterContinental hotel Park Lane, honouring Bruce Davidson, but ask to attend anyway. The PR must be impressed with the man I’m standing with and presents me with a ticket for a guest who’s dropped out. “Tonight Mathew, I’m going to be producer of Radio 4’s Front Row show, Jerome Weatherald”. My congratulations to the winners; however, on such a dappled evening I decide against sitting through a ceremony where I’ve won nothing and reverse up the red carpet towards the Moon Under Water JD Wetherspoon pub. “Hey Mr Dench” I turn and pose for the pap. It’s Photography student and Dench Diary reader Chris Butchart. Chris has been drafted in to ‘fake pap’ the guests. His fee is a pass to the festival events. Settling down with a white wine spritzer I’m joined by photography double act Palmer and Pawel who have placed third in the sports category - and are also of the opinion a bit of alfresco drinking is preferable. We sip and chat while the Brent Carpet Company Ltd roll sup the red, which is still warm from the soles of world photography’s VVIPs. Arriving at the InterContinental the hungry and thirsty Jerome Weatherald scans the table plan for the 500+ guests and checks the company at his allocated number, 52. Dissatisfied, he opts instead for table 40 and wedges in for the evening between renowned photojournalist Tom Stoddart and image producer Caroline Cortizo. Also at the table are photographer Steve Pyke, his son, journalist Sean O’Hagan, Jon Jones, Monica Allende and Patrick Llewellyn from the Sunday Times, Astrid Meget form the World Photography Organisation and other luminaries. It’s been a culinary day. We elbow clack into plates of Cotswold beef, rolled sirloin with asparagus and fresh horseradish sauce, Korean spiced beef tartar and steak bitok. Looking round the table it’s a jolly, if little cramped, affair.

29th I begin shooting a two-day assignment for the Telegraph magazine - reportage on the Royal Wedding. After an intense and surreal time shooting eclectic characters camped along the wedding route I meet Simon Roberts for drinks. Simon is also contributing to the Telegraph's Royal Wedding souvenir special. As we catch up, two girls from the suburbs join us at our table. They have been in town trying on wedding dresses and, I suspect, have had a few drinks along the way. Simon is tickled with peacock feathers. I have a mug of salted cashews tipped on my head. It’s been that kind of day. I pop a cashew into my mouth and we say cheerio.

30th OMG!!!!!!! It’s finally here, the big day. What shall I wear!? In the dawn light I peer blearily into the mirror, remove my grimace and button my Paul Smith suit. Ding-Dong.... today this photographer is going to shine.

A version of this feature first appeared in the June 2011 issue of Professional Photographer Magazine

Friday, 15 July 2011

How I Shot the Royal Wedding

Central London is packed. No one moves. A man sobs, another coughs, birds flutter, silence returns. It’s just after 9am on September 6th 1997. A giant screen in Hyde Park shows a gun carriage taking the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales on a four-mile procession to Westminster Abbey. Every minute of the journey a single bell chimes. On top of the Royal Standard draped coffin are lilies from her brother and sons, Princes William and Harry, a poignant card reads ‘Mummy.’ After the service, I joined the route of the funeral cortege that would take Diana on her final journey to the Spencer family home in Northamptonshire and waited for the shot.

I had been in London for just over a year trying to find my vocation as a photographer. I thought an iconic image of the hearse would be a valuable addition to my portfolio, to show commitment, dedication and the ability to identify important historical moments. As I waited, the price sticker on the sole of a shoe worn by a woman kneeling nearby caught the eye. I crouched to frame, there was quiet applause and the twirl of tossed long stem roses, a whoosh, and the hearse had gone along with both picture opportunities. On the long walk to find the nearest open pub (it was on Upper Street 3.5 miles away) I photographed the flags flying half-mast and considered whether breaking news photography would be my discipline.

Two years later confirmed it would not. On assignment for the Sunday Times Magazine shooting reportage on the Queen’s Royal Tour to South Africa I travelled around with the royal press pack. On one occasion we arrived at a school classroom in Alexandra Township outside Johannesburg. The pack rushed from the coach to secure a similar vantage point and waited. I was unfettered to explore with my camera. Hours later Betty arrived. The townships children were everywhere; they danced and sang to the Queen and waved her off with their little flags. A man in a suit then collected the flags and boarded the coach. A departing scuffed huffed cloud of dust erased any evidence we had been there.

It is with good cheer then, that I anticipate the more joyous occasion of the Royal Wedding between Prince William and Catherine Middleton. A two-day reportage for the Telegraph Magazine has been in the diary since January removing the pressure to be officially involved and delivering a handsome payday. I even had to turn down German news magazine STERN when a dual-shoot compromise couldn’t be agreed. My brief for the reportage is to document the commoners that line the route; to do a ‘Dench’, reveal the gritty underbelly of life as a royal supporter and produce the antithesis to the inevitable schmaltz to be paraded across the pages of the Daily Mail and Express newspapers. Well, that’s how I interpreted the brief and it’s right up my Mall.

At 10am on the day before, I meet Jessica who will be writing detailed captions for the photographs. This could be irksome for Jessica, a respected staff member deployed to shadow a snapper. If she is irked it doesn’t show and we strut as equals towards Buckingham Palace. I tried to convince the editor to let me do the words and pictures. I’m glad she declined. Jessica is thorough and discreet and the company is welcome. On the way I learn heavyweight photographers Zed Nelson and Simon Roberts will also be contributing adding a bit of friendly competition for page space. I repeat-remind myself to shoot verticals to try and nail a cover.

Along the route we gather micro-features from the royal nutters with Roald Dahl character names embedded on the front line of Great Britain. Americans, Christine and Olivia Wofford carry a large Yellow W and K around to photograph at picture postcard locations. Rosalind Lumb and Wendy Huffwaite peruse a book of Royal Wedding poems. Dulwich Public Schoolgirls Amelia Coe and India Marlow-Prince quaff fizz in their customised pink ‘Will & Kate Forever’ T-Shirts while across the road, tiara topped Amelia Asquith and Charlotte Dunsmore pay their respects at the memorial of the Queen Mother. Opposite Westminster Abbey a more fevered crowd lay in wait. Cynthia McAllister propels a giddy cackle at her husband Phillip whose war medals clink together. Further along, Darci Richards entertains Granny with a strum on the guitar. The mood has been jolly and the 7000 accredited press respectful. We wait for the American news channel CNN to finish their broadcast before our turn with one fanatical family. Presenter Tim Vincent waits for his with Amelia and India.

The alarm bell rejoices at 05.45am. Like before any big day, it has been a fit-full nights sleep. Jessica and I have decided to dress smart and meet in the last carriage of the 06.30 Victoria line tube train at Highbury and Islington station, a plot scene worthy of An Affair to Remember. We are concerned about access and movement so have decided to get in early. Vacate the tube at Victoria and make our way through St. James’s Park to the south side of the route where we will work between Parliament Square and the Mall. Photographing yesterday was crucial. The tents have now been packed away and the rows are deep. I shoot and weave amongst the royal masks, maple leaf bunting, sleeping men, women dressed as brides, the alfresco plastic urinals and the occasional outburst of royal rage as late arrivals encroach on established viewing positions. We pause to talk to the impeccably suited Harry Arthur (8) and brother Rory (5) and the more dishevelled Berry Collins and Gloria Doherty, who slept under the stars and have ‘appropriated’ a tent for shelter. They complain that unlike at a wedding in their community, they haven’t even been offered sandwiches and a drink.

As Big Ben tocks towards wedding o’clock I decide the best place to photograph will be from Parliament Square. There’s a massive cheer, Dalia Yousif is hoisted onto the shoulders of Panos. I snap some frames of his thigh-clenched face and ask what Dalia can see. It’s the litter pickers on one final round. Another cheer and she grabs a frame of Prince Harry. It’s the first I’ve seen of the A-list wedding guests. As William took Kate up the aisle, I was probably only a straight 100-metres away. Cocooned in a living cordon I photograph what I can. 10-year old Callum Lewis uses a ‘Blighty’ periscope to scan for action. Ben Fowler and William Fox-Staeton picnic on the grass. Mr Higgins chuffs his pipe, 21-year old Rhyll de Teglia has a solitary moment and a woman picks up dog-poo. There’s a little Britain-village fete-Henman Hill kind of feel to the proceedings.

Over the two days I shoot 686 frames, FTP an edit of ‘as shot’ 82 to the Telegraph Magazine and head off for a day clay pigeon shooting in the Oxfordshire countryside. On return the TM has edited 13 images to be delivered as polished, ready-for-publication files. This is encouraging. My hopes are for six consecutive pages with a double-page opener. I text my friends and call my Mum. Finally, I think she will have something to be proud of produced by her son to frame and hang in the spare bedroom. I asses Martin Parr’s effort on the Magnum website and think perhaps, I may have edged it on the day.

Saturday 7th, the day the Telegraph Magazine Royal Wedding souvenir edition is published. It’s with leaden feet that I head out to buy a copy. Three days after the wedding I received a call delivering the “AWFUL” news. None of my photographs would be published; zero. nought, nowt, nada. I’ve been around long enough, just, not to take this personally and got proactive, called STERN to see if it was too late to send some their way. The subsequent elimination of Bin Laden had squeezed out wedding pages. I get six images on to the CORBIS website for syndication and upload 50 to ALAMY but it all feels a little bit late. 20 are posted on my website, I Tweet the link and put an album on Facebook. Responses are good: Martin O’Neill thinks them “Most amusing”, Sam Christopher Cornwell, “Great stuff.”

Wincing back a double vodka tonic I find Zed’s 6 images over two pages and Simon’s one image over two pages treading water in the Getty pool publication. Slightly embarrassed at my exclusion, I text my friends and call my Mum with the news. It seems even the staunchest cynics have been seduced by the occasion (except me). And the wedding is to be remembered and revered as a right royal fairytale (except by me). I now know, why I don’t officially shoot weddings. You wouldn’t want me at your wedding, and in all honesty, I probably wouldn’t want to come. I raise a glass to the hundreds of millions that watched TV coverage of the wedding and consider instead, the next royal funeral.

More Royal Wedding photos HERE

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Dench Diary : March 2011

1st My wife has taken to buying boxed wine in an effort to save money. It’s not going well. Paranoid you can’t see how much is left, each secretly tops up. I suggest both having one box that we can lug from room to room like a medical drip or reverse catheter. I’d hoped as I age the quality of wine to improve. I once drank a 1989 Haute Brion (currently retailing online at £1200 a bottle) from a glass antler as a guest at Chateau Lafitte. That set the standard. Today I find myself ripping out the foil interior and manically pumping for the last drops like some wheezing Scot piper.

3rd “If you can smell the street by looking at the photograph, then it’s a street photograph.” That may be so Bruce Gilden but this is Derby, it mostly smells of Greggs and the Steak Bakes are selling well. I’m back in my old University town for the FORMAT Festival looking at the Market Square exhibition Take to the Streets, a major survey of street life from around the world by leading Magnum photographers. Before the official festival opening I take a tour of some old haunts. I stand on the spot where 18 years ago I was punched and kicked to the ground and mugged of my Mamiya RB 67, the blood has gone. I visit my former local the Crompton Tavern. I never took a girl there, didn’t want to risk ruining a good local if the relationship went flat. The day I was to move to London, after three years of lock-ins, persistent drinking and headed goals for the pub football team I took in my girlfriend. “Hey Pete, we all thought you were gay.” The landlord is a face from the past and I ask after my old drinking partner and film tutor John Hawkridge. I find him for a few at the home of great real ales the Smithfield before finally heading to FORMAT where it’s straight into drinks with Twenty-Twenty director Frede Spencer and omnipresent artist PollyCampanyDavidBraden. I totter to find my pictures on a digital loop. I submitted 85 but as each frame remains for 15 seconds it’s too prolonged to verify the number. It’s good to be involved and I’m in stellar company, surrounding exhibits include Raghu Rai, Vivian Maier, Joel Meyerowitz, Jeff Mermelstein and some striking crisp colour prints of automobile breakdowns from the Amy Stein project Stranded. During the after party at Revolution I say hello to former Magnum snapper Paul Lowe, now course director of the Masters programme in photojournalism and documentary photography at London College of Communication. I haven't talked to Paul properly since 2002 when I was a student in Amsterdam on the five-day World Press Photo Joop Swart Masterclass. Paul was one of the Masters. I’d hoped the week would be treated as a free-flowing exchange as equals. Paul was more of the opinion that the Master would master and the student would listen. When the course had run I stayed on a few days for a break. So did some others. In the bar of Hotel Arena, Paul joined the table where I was drinking with photographers Tim Hetherington and Narelle Autio. He picked up my pint and poured some into his glass. I let it pass. Then he did it again. Now I’m from Weymouth where people have been killed for less. So today I keep a firm grip on my tumbler as Paul talks excitedly about his anticipated slot spinning discs at the Revolution DJ booth. It’s a new Lowe.
4th Pop back to FORMAT and stand through a bit more of my slideshow. Spot Dewi Lewis chatting with Chris Steele-Perkins. I’m trying to get a book published and Dewi is a key figure. I really should say hello but it looks to tight to interrupt. Take in the Dougie Wallace collection Reflections on Life on the flight down from the first floor and blink into the Flickr Group, Hardcore Street Photography presentation. Settling down on the train home with two cans of Strongbow and a copy of the Derby Telegraph I absorb the local news. “A man has been arrested for allegedly carrying out a sex act on a 25 year old donkey called Jane.” I was once told Derby has the highest number of people born in a city that remain there for life, literally one big happy family. Remembering the women, I give a sympathetic nod for the unnamed 39-year old man. “The donkey was checked out afterwards by a vet. She was found to be fit and well.” I toast Jane’s health and mentally pencil a return to Derby in another 16 years.
7th Visiting Focus on Imaging at the NEC I meet Wedding Photographer and PP subscriber since the 70’s Mr Roger Tyas, a PP subscriber for decades. Well he was a subscriber but feels the content relevant to him has disappeared. I ask Roger if there’s anything he likes in the magazine, anything at all? “No.” He asks what I do, “Write a column for PP.” Pose for a picture with Jake handing out bags for Aaduki Insurance resplendent in orange striped swim pants. Scour the Sony ‘make.believe’ stand, there are only soft drinks, ‘can’t.believe’ and defect to the Denis Wright exhibit, ‘the longest established and most experienced manufacturer of albums, strut mounts presentation folders and frames.’ Denis has it right, bubbles and crust cut sandwiches. I nibble at the world of strut mounts with enthusiasm. There must be so much to learn here, so much to see and much of it free. Instead, hot but not that bothered I cool down in the Cougar Tavern (Mary’s Bar) with a Vodka Tonic and the fanned underarm flaps from the women serving drinks. On one last circuit of Focus I wait to be noticed at the Calumet show. A welcome interception comes from Chef and Photographer Pete Cranston. I think Pete is looking for a Dench drink challenge. Sat in Wetherspoon he shows his intention and chugs the first two pints to my one. Four hours pass with our interpretation of the classic Smith & Jones, Not The Nine O’Clock News Beer-Darts sketch (visual on YouTube) before Cranston walks, a near full Guinness left on the table that I drain before the train.

11th Meet with international thriller writer Tom Knox for drinks in Camden. He hands me a copy of his new book Bible of the Dead. I scan the acknowledgements. ‘My great friends and colleagues Peter Dench and Dan White, brilliant photographers both, have always been ready to tell me – over a warm beer in London, or a cold beer in Bangkok – just how wrong I am about almost everything.’ Knox explains the main character; photographer Jake Thurby is part himself, Dan and me. It’s fair to say Knox has had, a rather scandalous life; I’m hardly a role model and ask about Dan. Yikes! It seems he’s the dark Dan Diary of Asia. Promises to be a entertaining read.

14th Last week saw drinking at it’s most self-destructive; often without purpose or hope. On one occasion at University, Jonathan Worth asked me too meet for a quick pint. With a course deadline looming I was wary but Jonathan didn’t come out much, so I agreed. Eight days later I called time on the session. Jonathan had of course left after one drink and completed a project in the interim. Keen not to fritter away another week I get to work emailing out PDF’s of news relevant images from my archive.

15th Arrive at Alphabet Bar in Soho for leaving drinks with Joanna Moran, Picture Editor at Men’s Health Magazine. I’ve not thought this through. I’ve never met Joanna in person before. Order a wine and scan the throng for familiar faces. MH has been good to me. Before Thom Knox became an international thriller writer he was humble hack Sean Thomas. Together on assignment for MH we spent a week quaffing at a French Vineyard, another sun drenched on the Caribbean paradise of Martinique. When the troops rolled into Kuwait for Gulf War Two we were safely waiting for Swifty the Swimming Pig to take the plunge at the Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo. My highlight was the trip to landlocked Belarus, the only country in the developed world where men die 12 years before women. Why? I think it was the heart-punching beauty of the ladies. At times I felt like killing myself. We drank Vodka with the locals to numb the senses and watched the Slavic sirens pass. Photo Director Cat Costello who pours me into the MH pool rescues me from my reverie and explains the nations best selling men’s magazine is looking for health related photo-essays, committing at times to 8 pages. This is encouraging and I start to formulate a plan.

17th It’s good to have a project to shoot when work is slow and money is tight. I’ve been adding to one for some time. In an Ideal World, is a study of society's perception of perfection. Today I’m off to the Ideal Home Show; a slap of the Oyster card and flash of the Press Pass and I’m in. As a compulsive cleaner keen to see what’s new, I zip past the Bearskin-topped Foot Guards, ignore the Pap pack chasing Prince Charles and suck up to the Houseware section. It doesn’t disappoint. The 'Magic Mop, Best Mop Ever,' raises the pulse ‘The Amaze Brush, Good on Fluff & Lint’ beads the brow and the ‘Miracle Shammy’, (absorbs 25 times it’s weight in liquid) has me twitching for the wallet. Then I discover a jaw dropper, never before seen in the United Kingdom, it’s the all-in-one more effective cleaning, never again need for separate sponges and scourers designer glove Onhandz. Managing Director Colin O’Neil proudly shows me a picture of him with Prince Charles taken 20 years ago. I humbly ask if I can snap this moment with Marketing Director Angela Riverie also selling the scouring sensation. It’s a good start to the day. Move on to the Ideal Woman section to see if I agree, pause at the Catwalk, seems I do. Last stop before bus stop the painstakingly recreated Rovers Return Inn with one amiss, no painstakingly recreated real beer.

18th Today I peed on the floor of the pub. I did it for Comic Relief.

23rd “Squirrel.” I’m kneeling on the floor of a Belgravia flat. “Squirrel.” Shooting a portrait for Stern magazine of Ingrid Seward, Editor-in-Chief of Majesty Magazine. “Squirrel.” She has white Puffie on her lap. “SQUIRREL!” Apparently this makes the Westie dog prick up the ears. I glance across at Coventry University second-year student Dean O’Brien on a two day internship breathing the life of a sometime working pro. He looks nonplussed. “FOSTER'S!” O’Brien’s eyes level like a fruit machine triple bell jackpot. Job done, we twinkle toe into the sunshine.

25th Only one days commissioned shoot for the third successive month, at least I’m consistent. Not too disheartened, I’m booked for the first 11 days of April on three commitments. Two days in Glasgow, three in Norway, six in Jamaica. Then I receive an email cancelling Norway. Not too disheartened, I’m still booked for eight of the first 11 days of April.

26th Receive an email cancelling Glasgow, not too disheartened, I’m still booked for six of the first 11 days of April. Then I receive an email . . .

A version of this feature first appeared in the May 2011 issue of Professional Photographer Magazine

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Dench Diary : February 2011

This Month, Peter Dench, the award-winning photojournalists finds that self-imploding magazines and shrinking expense accounts mean things just ain't what they used to be in the world of professional photography. On the plus side there's always a launch party just around the corner . . . welcome to the world of a sometime working pro.

1stWhilst Peter has shown an increased dedication to photography and has produced a good portfolio of work for interview, his overall attitude tends to be one of indifference, flippancy and at times complacency. Unless Peter grows up a little in the very near future and works hard in all his subjects he will soon find himself out in the cold world surrounded by students who leave him standing.” Words as relevant now as they were 21 years ago. Keen to know her progress, I Google Virginia Bolton, my former A Level Photography teacher. I discover eight used copies of her book Focus on Photography for sale at a penny on Amazon but nothing else. My mum has retired and is doing what mums do best, sorting things out. In my hometown of Weymouth there are three boxes of my life needing rescue including this college report. Flicking through the viewed once magazines it’s clear just how much editorial photography has changed. A 1999 Marie Claire a whacking 426 pages, a 1998 GQ a healthy 321. The format is big and the pages are jammed with adverts for Palm Pilots, before Viagra remedies and photographs of Gail Porter with hair. My contributions failed to save some of the publications, Frank, The Face, Wish and NOVA, all gone. It’s poignant tipping them into recycle. Today what was probably my last editorial mail out will reach their destination. From habit I ordered 200 postcards. Three immediate commissions would usually follow plus another half dozen within a few months. Checking the list less than 70 recipients still have their job. I say a mental goodbye to the days of jollies masquerading as stories, visits to a town dedicated to Superman, foam parties at Club Med and I go out with a smile. The stamps bore my cheesy pate next to a billowing Union Flag courtesy of the service, ‘Smilers - Share a special moment.’

8th I’m hanging my LoveUK exhibition at Creative Ad Agency, Archibald Ingall Stretton in time for Valentines Day and pop along to the offices to asses the space. After, I have three hours to occupy before a long anticipated private view of an important Eve Arnold retrospective at the Chris Beetles Fine Photographs Gallery in Swallow Street. The sun is out. Resisting the urge to imbibe I start snapping the street. It feels I’m trespassing all over iN-PUBLIC member and street photographer David Solomons Up West project. Stalking red scarves around Carnaby Street a Hexar AF sneaks into view. It’s iN-PUBLIC member and street photographer David Solomons shooting his Up West project. We have one of those twitchy conversations photographers often have with one another where no-ones really paying attention, eyes and wrists flick to the colours that pass and the people that wear them. David is gracious enough to let me crash his drinks meeting but something odd happens. I decline. I’m enjoying myself and continue to play peek-a-boo with the sun as we bounce up and down Piccadilly before I finally succumb and head up to the 5th floor bar in Waterstones Bookstore. If I ever have a lover of advanced years who enjoys The Express and a good Royal Wedding this is the ideal venue to take them. Looks like many of the men at the tables agree. The walls are decorated with the covers of 40 years of Pulitzer Prize winners. I scribble some down. The woman next to me asks if I’m a writer. I snort derisively. Then say yes. For a second I think she wants to caress my head in her leathery nape; her friends turn up and the moment fades. It’s opening time at Chris Beetles and I jittery flit moth like towards the gallery door, swerve sharply and compose myself round the corner. My legs bow, the table I glanced inside was groaning with fizz. Breath, skip back round and nip through the door. No name or invite check, they let anyone in these days. A man views the work seated by scooting round in a desk chair. Another prods me out the way with his walking stick. The bubbles are introduced to my palette and I acquaint myself with the work, some of it familiar some not. In a fantasy moment I rehearse purchasing ‘Bar Girl in a Brothel in the Red Light District, Havana, Cuba, 1954’ and check the price, £2800. It’s one of the cheaper prints. ’Marilyn Monroe During the Filming of The Misfits, Nevada, 1960’ is a busty £17500. Most I talk with think them a fair price. The red dots are out and at least four have stuck. I check my lapel for a scarlet disc. I decide to leave when my camera bag dominoes an empty glass into a terracotta army of others. I momentarily detect the spirit of Roy Castle and Norris McWhirter chortle their approval. I hold my nerve and let the lady trying to stand them up take the blame, doff an imaginary cap to the £8000 ‘Barmaid, New York City, 1950s’ grab my coat and burp into the evening.

12th Attend the first anniversary party of the Third Floor Gallery in Cardiff - turn to the 6-page feature in this issue to read of the experience. Wait! Finish the diary first.

17th The editorial mail out has tweaked the interest of Stylist Magazine, a portrait in Soho of former MP Jacqui Smith, breeze past presenter Claire Balding and into the BBC’s Henry Wood House where we are to meet. While Jacqui is having her make up done I get a call delivering news as significant as winning a World Press Photo Award. I’ve only ever spontaneously shouted out loud for joy three times in adult life and to the surprise of the office release a shattering fourth. It’s Director of the 2011 Visa Pour L’Image Festival of Photojournalism, Jean-Francois Leroy with confirmation that they would like to exhibit ‘England Uncensored’. This is big news. Leroy ends the call with those magic words, “Welcome to the club.”

18th TAXVAT man has cleaned me out and is still squeezing. I check my air miles from more prolific times and book an escape. It is time to go on a journey to see a man. Not just any man, but a man with a fine head of hair. The ladies call him Mr Darcy. Many call him Captain Congo. Others call him friend. I simply call him Bleasdale. Marcus Bleasdale. I first met Bleasdale when he joined the IPG agency of which I was already a member in 2002. I think he will concur benefiting from my tutelage. It’s satisfying to see him doing so well and progress to a point where I was only on the subs bench at his wedding. Winner of World Press Photo of the Year 2005 Finbarr O’Reilly shot the stills. Current Magnum President Jonas Bendiksen was on video duty. Now with the VII photographic agency, Bleasdale has got me a gig teaching a workshop at the Bilder Nordic School of Photography in Oslo where he lives. Realising I’m heading to one of the most expensive cities in the world I log onto to see if I can raise enough for a round and head off to the airport. I arrive bearing the requested maximum quota of duty free and series 8&9 of Silent Witness.

19th Arriving at the £8000 a year School of Photography the nerves aren’t bad but I postpone breakfast just in case. Last night at the Crown Prince’s favourite Restaurant over Venison (I was tempted by the Braised Ox Cheek in Beer) Bleadsdale had warned me, “Dench, you’d better be funny.” This morning I don’t feel funny. Breakfast with Bleasdale is not always an amusing start to the day. All the hope and light from this dawn is juiced into a tale of Congo Rape and Child Soldiers. I stare out the window at the residence across the road and applaud the Norwegians aversion to net curtains. It’s a peeping Peter paradise. “Are you a nation of tall blonde, fluffy jumper wearing, whale killing, pillaging sea warriors?” may not be the most conventional question to kick off a presentation but most of the ensemble seem to take it in their stride. I check the slow blinking lids of ice cool Catrine on the front row for a written message. Nothing. She just seems tired and idly jabs at her phone. The theme of the workshop is Irony and Humour in Norwegian Life and Society. I show them a cross section from my work on England from Dagenham Estates to Blackpool Hen Parties, Country House Events to the Banbury Hobby Horse Festival and end the presentation reading a few extracts from the Diary to see if it translates and am pleased the laughs are loud. Skidding round to the Dubliners Pub on a high I get the drinks in. Two pints of Guinness and two packets of crisps please, £22.59. My legs start doing an involuntary Charleston. I’ve never taken so long to finish a pint.

20th The family have joined me for a mini-break and while we watch the girls ice skate I complain to Bleasdale about having to pick up the cab fare on my Jacqui Smith all in fee commission and ask him about his recent 21 day trip to north-east Congo on assignment for Human Rights Watch and the Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting. He flatly explains spending $17000 on flights and only eight of those days being shoot days. Of having to fly with motorcycles and a generator before seven-hour rides through the bush. On one ride an accident smashed his knee and chewed the skin off his elbow down to the bone. Two days from decent medical care he patched himself up and finished the job. Not wanting to alarm the wife, the first she learned of his ordeal was as he crawled the stairs to his apartment 10KG lighter and urinating blood. Three trips to A&E followed before he headed off on a three-week trip to the Central African Republic and 10 days in Uganda. After ice-skating, hot chocolate and waffles we move on to The International Museum of Childrens Art, I pick up the entrance fee and make a donation. Under the Chinese masks Bleasdale talks about an orphanage he and a bunch of Congo conscious journalists have set up ( feeding, medicating and educating around 134 kids from past or current conflicts. He starts to regale a story of shooting backstage at Marc Jacobs during New York fashion week when a Nun called from Congo; she was having difficulty raising the $65 tax required to get six cows across a lake intended to provide milk for the orphanage. Before he can finish he beats off to catch the start of an African drum lesson, you can take Bleasdale out of Africa . . .

22nd Today I’m back at the Bilder Nordic School to assess the work of the students. I kick off the morning with a YouTube video of Jahn Teigun’s 1978 Eurovision Song Contest Nul Pointer, Mil Etter Mil (Mile After Mile) just to show that Norwegians are capable of being hilarious. Of the 40 students that attended my presentation, twenty have returned and 17 produced work. I ask Sebastian what’s his excuse and float the idea of getting the non-shooters to sing a chorus along with Jahn. “My best friends brother took an overdose and his wife hung herself.” I let thoughts of punishment pass. Later, reflecting on the quality of work from the Bilder Nordic School I find myself once again out in the cold world surrounded by students who will probably leave me standing, assume an attitude of indifference, flippancy and at times complacency, board the plane, sit back and suck back the British Airways Malbec, Mil Etter Mil Etter Mil . . .

A version of this feature first appeared in the April issue of Professional Photographer Magazine