2nd Enjoy the annual weekend visit of Carters Steam Fair to my local park, in a roundabout way.
4th My 15-year old niece Jaye arrives for a weeks ‘work’ experience just in time for liquid lunch o’clock, well she has to learn. I wash down my warm shredded duck and hoisin salad with a bottle of Pinot Grigio Blush and consider ordering another. Jaye looks nonplussed. Revising plans for an afternoon in the beer garden we head down to the Museum of London to check out the London Street Photography exhibition. On the way Jaye talks enthusiastically about the week ahead and the photographs she intends to take.
5th Today I have become attractive to men. As I walk the top deck of the W7 bus they sit up, brush the locks from their brow and beam me a smile. Then I remember my hot panted protégé is bouncing along behind. We spend the morning striding around central London as I impart the skills required for successful street photography. I allow Jaye half an hour unfettered to shoot in Trafalgar Square. Ten minutes later I receive a text; “Where are you? A creepy man keeps following me.” We retreat for pizza and assess the work. Every shot has a black obstruction in the top right and bottom left corners from the knocked out of position lens hood.
6th Regrouping after lenshoodgate, I aim to enthuse my leg weary intern with a visit to Photofusion Gallery for On Street Photography: A Woman’s Perspective. I always enjoy a woman’s perspective and prepare for shots of shoes and the street snapped from inside Topshop. I’m pleasantly surprised; Tiffany Jones work offers moments of cinematic drama, Anahita Avalos effortlessly captures the beauty of Mexican street life. I eject Jaye into the markets of Brixton to snap the characters and colour. She has forgotten her camera.
7th Today Jaye and I do not go out to take photographs. Instead I expose her to the hand peppered kisses and wet cheek explorations of Mollica and Wallace respectively at their London Street Photography Festival exhibition openings.
8th Welcome to my 800th follower on Twitter @BexleyRoyalDeal – Royal Coupons for Bexley. I look forward to receiving my first Royal Coupon.
9th Day one of an assignment shooting reportage on Arab London for The National, a newspaper based in Abu Dhabi, UAE. In 2008 they flew me out to the Emirates to shoot reportage on the city’s corniche, the equivalent of the British seaside promenade. The first thing I do on arrival is run across the beach for a paddle. I was immediately escorted off by security. It was a woman’s only beach.
Photographing Arab life in Abu Dhabi was often delicate and I look forward to the more open opportunities London will provide. Approaching from the south on Sloane Street is a Rickshaw with three women wearing the black abaya traditionally worn by Muslim women. I raise the camera and flash a frame, the Rickshaw stops. A woman steps out. The woman is angry. Four men herd me towards a shop front. They firmly request the photograph is deleted. I explain I am within UK law to take the picture. They explain that I have disrespected their culture. I suggest we look at the photograph and discuss its merits.
The woman dials her embassy. The men dip their chins and stare from under a unilaterally furrowed brow. “Delete the image.” I consider tickling their chins and raising my eyebrows. “You do not want trouble.” Flicking to the back of the camera I take a look. I’ve missed the shot. An overexposed rear detail of a Rickshaw can be seen exiting frame left. I announce that in respect for their culture I shall delete the image. The woman hangs up. I shake the men’s hands. The woman asks for my business card.
I’m trying out a new business card. A spoof on the adult service cards you often find in public phone booths. I politely decline her request. She suggests in future, I ask permission before taking photographs.
An hour earlier I’d grabbed a shot of an Arab woman wearing a large badge announcing, ‘It’s my birthday, spoil me.’ She firmly requested the image was deleted. I make a note to contact the UAE embassy to suggest a collaboration to highlight the dichotomy of freedom to photograph and respect for a culture residing in a foreign country.
I also make a note to shoot the s*** out of these situations before photographing on the street is further compromised.
10th Today I ask permission from of all the Arabs I would like to photograph. Most refuse except a trio of Saudi girls wearing ‘I Love London T-Shirts.’ It makes my day and makes the publication cover.
13th My sense of Arab has become so refined I can detect the flap of an abaya or kandora amidst the wind. Stood at Piccadilly Circus I put it to the test, close my eyes and listen. Six abayas sail past. I follow them.
They turn into m&m’s world. Four floors dedicated to the sugary treat. There’s a Routemaster bus inside the entrance, blue m&m is driving. Yellow m&m dances to Abba, pausing to pose for pictures. On the lower floor, four m&ms recreate the Beatles Abbey Road album cover. The ‘do not touch’ signs on the displays are in Arabic. I count 15 Arab women in the store. This place is an abomination to humankind, but the Arab women love it.
What else have I learnt on my Arab adventure? I have learnt the London Arab generally does enjoy riding in a pedalo, flying a kite, listening at Speakers Corner (but not the free hugs) and feeding the ducks in Hyde Park. The London Arab generally does not enjoy reading the Star newspaper, riding a Boris bike, rollerblading, having their caricature sketched in Leicester Square or boarding a busy tube train. It’s been challenging and I say good-abaya to the project for now.
19th It’s snowing outside Shoreditch Church, a man in a Santa hat drags on a roll up, I ask ‘Looking for Eric’ star, Steve Evets to pose for a portrait. It’s my last shot of the day photographing on set of BBC sitcom ‘Rev’ for a magazine feature.
Arriving in the morning, the PR pumped from a session in the gym reveals today would be observation shots only with no portrait opportunities of the cast that my brief underlines as crucial. I slowly chew an antacid as he reinforces the restrictions.
I’m not perturbed. Walking on to set I say hello to director Peter Cattaneo. I first met Pete filming ‘Lucky Break’, his directorial follow up to Brit classic, ‘The Full Monty’. He’s happy for me to quietly gather what portraits I need.
20th Late June I missed out on a five-day job for an Australian newspaper as I didn’t have evidence I shot video. I can’t afford to turn down a five-day commission. It is time.
Equipped to shoot video I head to the ‘War and Peace Show’ in Beltring, Kent: the largest military vehicle spectacular in the world. Marching around the show arena, I film Alan wearing the uniform of Pagoda Troop SAS, Hitler Youth Aidan of Panzer Division, Chris from MACV-SOG: A unit of modern forces living history group, “an uber secret special forces team, around in Vietnam, very, very secret” and Richard wearing a Swiss Army mountain snow suit armed with a WWII Schmidt-Rubin baton rifle. Richard has had a love affair with Switzerland since he visited as a schoolboy in the 1960’s.
Exploring the extensive market stalls there’s a dubious amount of Nazi paraphernalia on sale: key rings, coasters, a Hitler teddy bear, mugs and mouse-mats. Public schoolboys in Nazi T-Shirts peruse the military motorcycles, Heinrich Himmler look-a-likes shop for a black cap.
I’m actually relieved when I bump into Stalin.
In the evening, I shower away the corner of a Kent field and button on a clean shirt. Earlier my commercial agent called. “Would you like a networking party?” I would. “Tickets are only £10.” I’m flattered that people would pay £10 meet me. Ah.
Arriving at the Frontline Club having paid to mingle feels a little desperate, the drinks are free and I figure two Gin and Tonics and I’m in credit. I get my first and survey the crowd. I don’t know anyone. I suppose that’s the point and get to work.
I chat with photographer Chiara Ceolin, photographer David Vintiner and photographer Pete Garner. Wandering how helpful this has been on a return trip to the bar I discover the Gin has run out. A drink short I join an audience with Adrian Fisk in the club bar below. Adrian lives in India and is in town to discover if he has been successful in a project pitch for funding.
Getting a Gin in for Viceroy Fisk, I show the framed photograph of an amused Tim Hetherington a headline from the Sun newspaper; ‘Builders Bum Faces Cancer Crackdown’ and regale Tim with stories of my day in the trenches filming members of the Third Reich. I think I detect a widening of his much-missed smile.
25th Freelance Photographer + School Holidays = Daddy Day Care. Help!
The Dench Diary will appear in Hungry Eye magazine every issue and I will be posting short films of my adventures throughout the month.