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

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