Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Dench Diary : August 2011

1st – 6th It’s just after 9am on a sunny summers day. The sound of pre-premiership football friendlies pollute the air. I’m sat by a swimming pool looking at a pair of shorts laid neatly on a sun lounger. A long black dress is smoothed out on the adjacent lounger. I imagine the couple that will fill them. I decide the woman will smell of coconut, the man of white musk. They will be on their first holiday as a couple, they will be in love. They will link little fingers listening to the albums of Coldplay and David Gray through shared iPod headphones. I decide I won’t say hello but smile warmly at them to acknowledge their blossoming future. Three hours later they haven’t arrived. Other sun-seekers have had to sit on the floor by the pool. I hate the selfish couple and their vacated attire. I think of photographing myself in the man’s shorts and leaving a picture on the hotel notice-board, of tossing the girls dress into the pool or placing funny shaped fruit in the garment pockets.

I am on a family holiday. I’m not cut out for the family holiday. I don’t play cards at home with the window open listening to Bill Withers’ Lovely Day being sung badly on the Karaoke, but I do on a family holiday. I don’t normally drink odd coloured alcohol from odd shaped bottles, but I do that on a family holiday too. The trip has been paid for by my mother-in-law, there’s no irony in being working class and skint, mostly it just blows. I got into photography to travel the world at others expense. On assignment, I’ve partied with Maharaja’s, dined off a silver platter with Billionaires, taken a helicopter ride up the river Thames with a Hollywood movie star and sipped Gin with the Queen gazing out across the Indian Ocean.

On the family holiday, I find myself shopping for Heinz products in the Spa Supermarket listening to Bohemian Rhapsody being played over the tannoy. I eavesdrop on customers talking excitedly about the evenings Roy Chubby Brown experience. On the way back to the hotel, Scouse Tony tries to cajole me into a restaurant pointing at the beige and orange pictures of food I could tolerate on the lunchtime menu. The week is spent in a beer-haze of playing thumb wars, Hello Kitty Top Trumps and trying to purchase the photographs of happy families you find as you exit the water park. I keep sane by shooting some stock and file ‘the family holiday’ away with other events I can’t spontaneously enjoy: birthdays, weddings, New Years Eve, the entire Christmas period, school plays, the morning, sunsets and romantic walks in the park. My favourite time in the pub is Monday Brunch-time, when most people are at work. The truth is, despite my struggles, I rather like my life. Touching down in London, it feels good to back.

8th From burning on the beaches of Spain, to burning on the streets of London. With X-Factor off the air, the riot season is in full fling with looters grabbing giant TV’s ahead of the new series of the X-Factor. Spot news is not my forte. With situations like this you have to get on board early and see it through. Grow a pair and get stuck in. Sat in the comfort of The Villiers Terrace, I do what I do best in grave situations of uncertainty and Tweet some gags:

- The fire at the furniture store will end after the bank holiday weekend.
- The Croydon formal attire shop is a blazer.
- Using a water canon will have consequenches.
- Looters of Argos made off with six small blue pens.
- Mob reported on Lavender Hill.

9th As London continues to smoulder; it’s with a sense of relief that my daughter has a planned visit to her grandparents. Terminating at Weymouth we remain on the platform to observe the arrival of a rare train. The waiting train-spotters observe my daughter for what I decide is an inappropriate length of time. No one seems concerned about London so I ask about Weymouth; It’s been four months since my last visit, what’s been happening? “A charity swim and some scaffolding have been put up round by the harbour.” The 1940’s-built Southern Railway Bulleid Pacific steam locomotive named Tangmere chuffs to a halt. I don’t take out my camera.

11th Sat in the beer garden of Camden’s Edinboro’ Castle tucking into a second bottle of afternoon blush with international thriller writer Tom Knox, a French phone number flashes on the mobile. It’s Grazia with a commission to report on post London rioting, from a woman’s perspective.

12th – 13th I meet the French journalist in Dalston for the start of our riot-tour. We visit Eltham looking for a female vigilante linked to the English Defence League prevalent in the area. Join a clean up in Tottenham where I bump into the much admired Edinburgh born snapper Muir Vidler. In Croydon, we talk to the perfectly petite police staff Francesca and Claire, stand to inhale what’s left of the Reeve’s furniture store and have a pint in the Tamworth Arms where the reception from one local isn’t as warm as the street, a bit of cricket chat smoothes things over. In between the chain-smoking and caffeine quaffing, the journalist is kind enough to find time to suggest how people should be posing for my camera. Walking Clapham High St, the horror is evident but also the hope. Boarded up shops have become temporary walls of condolence with thousands of messages of support and it’s a welcome opportunity to shoot some positive images. Also evident in Clapham is the amount of whole-food shops smashed but not looted. I think it should be known as the summer of the bad-diet-riots.

16th Head down to the Ian Parry awards supported by Canon Europe at the Getty Gallery sponsored by Nikon. Ian Parry was a photojournalist who died aged only 24 whilst on assignment for the Sunday Times during the 1989 Romanian revolution. A scholarship was set up designed to award young photojournalists with a bursary that will enable them to undertake a chosen project and raise their profile in the international photographic community. The competition is for photographers who are 24 years or under. It’s also open to ancient photographers on a full-time photographic course, ask previous winner Marcus Bleasdale. Thanks to the external network at Derby University, the first time I heard of the scholarship was after I left education at the age of 25. In a way, it’s good not to have been denied the prize and I arrive uninhibited by failure to enjoy the evening. Despite the sombre origin of the prize, it attracts industry heavyweights for an upbeat industry bender. Congratulations to 2011 recipient of the prize Rasel Chowdhury from Bangladesh for Desperate Urbanization, his landscape series documenting the pollution of Dhaka.

17th Ouch! I can’t move. Throb. The clock ticks. I’m late. Focus, heave into last nights clothes and speed towards Waterloo, every second counts. Ticket, twelve minutes to spare, easy. Where the F*** is Threshers! Major refurbishment has erased my habitual shopping point. I tweet my terror. Whistlestop at the far end by platform 1, gone @ChrisSharps. Costcutter round the corner, their fridges are unreliable @paulrussell99. Sainsbury’s opposite the station, not enough time @_JamesDavies. M&S, yes, queue, four-pack of cider and I make the 10.05 to Weymouth by a doors wheeze. At Southampton Airport Parkway the M&S finest has done the job and I doze a flashback Parry party where feathered legend Dod Miller snaps under the Bognor sun and I stroke enough DNA from the face of Simon Roberts to cultivate my own line of Lumberjack shirts.

I arrive in Weymouth just in time for the space hopper race. The town’s annual highlight, the carnival, is in under way. I’m delighted that 21-years after my initial request, a beer tent has been erected for the big day. I top-up my liver and get to work filming and photographing the Devizes Male Major Wrecks down in the ‘Muff’ to raise money for the charity, Contact a Family. The men train for two hours every Sunday evening from January to May, if you live in the Devizes area, are male and a wreck they urgently need recruits. I meet newly crowned 20-year old carnival queen Lucy Compton who has enjoyed watching the event with her family since a little girl and who will lead the motorised procession flanked by Jessica Miller, 18, who when she was chosen as a finalist “Didn’t know what to do so I just ran down the stairs” and Sarah Flann, 26, a keen amateur photographer who has just finished a hairdressing course at Weymouth College. Confusingly, there’s also a Miss Weymouth, the shimmering Shiralee Gould who will be walking the Carnival route for the charity Pets at Home. I shoot video of Shiralee, also winner of the Miss Dorset Popularity award and take some stills of her eating a Mr Whippy ice cream. Shiralee says she’d “Rather be single than to be lied to, cheated on, and disrespected.” I nod sagely.

24th My shirt is on the floor. The room is full. I think there is whooping. A woman shouts “SUCK IT IN” another squeals. I am #Lot10 at the London Street Photography Festival fundraiser auction. The audience are bidding on a personal portrait session with me at their chosen venue, the prize includes a digital photo and print package. The guide price is £250 - £300. I am petrified. £100’s have been spent so far and most guide prices breached. I can see my Ketel One Vodka cocktail. I want my Ketel One Vodka cocktail. Over the festival period, I have come to rely on the Ketel One Vodka cocktail. I throw some moves and am relieved when the bidding hits £420. Someone calls for my shoes and socks to be removed. I can see where this is going and shake my head. The gavel falls. I look forward to spending the afternoon with Mr Proudfoot and his pertner.

27th Apprehensively pack for the Visa pour l’image festival of photojournalism in Perpignan. It is to date, potentially the greatest opportunity of my career. I have a 40+ print exhibition and am scheduled to give a Canon sponsored seminar, two television interviews, and a number of guided tours to my exhibit. The place can be brutal. I like a drink, photojournalists like a drink and there will be thousands. Positions two and three in my all time top ten of inebriation are attributed to the festival. Previously, I’ve had five screenings in eight years; I was there for three of them and only made it to one. I can’t even think about the country that occupies position number one. Many years later, viewing it on a map still has me retching and reaching for the floor to cuddle my knees. Each year around the anniversary of that day, I meet the man who accompanied me and we whisper our shame. For an attempt at restraint, my family are coming to Perpignan for the first few days, even my parents. This may have not been wise; the imbibing mother that bore me relishes a holiday snifter. I re-check my checklist; throw in an extra box of soluble codeine, breath in and head for the airport. It should be quite a ride.

A version of this feature first appeared in issue #1 of Hungry Eye Magazine, home of the Dench Diary


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