Saturday, 3 December 2011

Dench Diary : September/October 2011

1st - 5th “Peter Dench!” It’s the moment I’ve dreamt of for nine-years, Jean-Francois Leroy is striding towards me. The director of the Visa pour L’Image festival of photojournalism has granted me an exhibition and I’m in Perpignan, France, to promote the work. It’s been a dizzying whirl of television, web and press interviews, I’m emotional; vulnerable. I quickly recap what this bearded messiah of the genre has done for me. In addition to the exhibition, five of my projects have featured in the evening screenings over eight years. It is time to show in one overbearing outpouring what it all means and I man up for a hug. JFL opts for the handshake. It’s too late and his hand is lodged uncomfortably between our ribcages.



“Peter Dench!” It’s the moment I’ve been dreading. Jean-Francois Leroy is again striding towards me. I consider legging it, scuff to a halt and offer my hand. He grabs my shoulders and pulls me in for a double-cheek-kiss. I manage to detour my hands around his waste and squeeze.

I am en route with all the attending festival exhibitors and some industry nobs for a celebratory lunch in the countryside. Christopher Morris, Paolo Pellegrin and Photojournalism’s Father Christmas, Gary Knight, are all in attendance. The talk is of Libya and which flak jackets offer the least chaffing. I think of Blackpool and the Speedos I shall wear. The bendy bus transporting us rolls around the roundabouts and swings through the villages. My back is to the driver. The festival is a boozy affair which I can handle. The Dench stomach, however, has a weakness for road travel. I’m directly facing former Magnum President, Jonas Bendiksen and Pellegrin. To my right is war photographer Yuri Kozyrev, Bertrand Gaudillere sits stoically still. The boyishly fresh Ed Ou bounces around. I start to dry heave. Black spots splatter the eyeballs. I am about to throw up, the bus stops, I lurch into the sunshine and manage to swallow my shame.

I ease myself from the emasculating arms of VII snapper, Marcus Bleasdale, shake him a warm goodbye and return to my seat outside Cafe de la Poste, the unofficial festival HQ, where I decide to call it a night. There is peripheral movement, the perk-up presence of Jyothy Karat sweeps me up from my seat for one last hurrah. Walking into the official end of festival party is a shameful affair. I’m advised to purchase a plastic beaker and exchange some euros for drink tokens. I wave my badge and enunciate that “I’m an exhibitor and must be directed immediately to the VIP area - and the free drinks to which I’ve become accustomed." I’m informed as only the French know how, that there will be no more free drinks. The ride is over. I’m so tired, at the party I start to hallucinate and become convinced the guests have been instructed not to let me leave and the whole evening has been arranged to reveal I’m a fraud and the exhibition a hoax. In a moment of panic, I dart unapologetically from one conversation and bolt for the exit.

18th In August, I was auctioned at the London Street Photography Festival fundraiser for £420 to Mr Proudfoot. Today I spend a pleasant afternoon walking around the Barbican taking portraits of him and his partner at some of their fondest locations.

21st I knew this day would come. Frankly, I’m surprised it took so long. After the Perpignan high, the inevitable low; and it hits hard. I’ve followed up on the stack of inch-high business cards, read the brochures and clicked all the links. The money has gone. I have no work. Copper leaves corkscrew in the Autumnal wind, I flip the lid on a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream and sip out the day in my FCUKs.

23rd I’ve made a rookie mistake and allowed a window for conversation to open with my taxi driver. I don’t want to have a conversation with my taxi driver. It’s 4.30am. I especially don’t want to have a conversation with this taxi driver, who is Lithuanian and keen to practise his English. To be fair he needs to practise. I’m on my way to San Sebastian Film Festival in northern Spain where I have some photographs in the group show, Letters From Europe. Arriving at Stansted, the taxi driver explains how tough it is to earn money and his reliance on tips to feed his family - all delivered in perfect English.


On 7th September 2010 I received an email;

Dear Peter, My name is Lola Mac Dougall.

No one called Lola Mac Dougall would be contacting me unless they wanted me to send them £5000 after being robbed abroad or wanting to meet for fun, fantasy and frolics in North London. I had pressed delete, had second thoughts, retrieved the email and continued to read;

"I represent Limonkraft, a Spanish non-profit association which is devoted to culture and development, and works closely with photography. We are currently implementing a project co-financed by the European Commissions Daphne III programme. Our project deals with second-generation migrant girls from North Africa and South Asia living in Spain, France, Italy, UK, The Netherlands and Denmark. Specifically, we are documenting their social integration into their “host” countries, as well as forms of violence and discrimination to which they may be vulnerable. Given your previous photographic works, we believe the proposal may be of interest to you."

It was. Landing in Bilbao I meet Johann Rousellot, who is representing France in the show. On the bus to San Sebastian, we discuss the strategies applied to shoot our respective projects. Arriving at the exhibition hosted at the city’s Ernest Lluch Cultural Centre, is a little disappointing, it has the 'some-pictures-on-the-wall-of-a-local-library' kind of feel. The event kicks off with an hour of academic findings before a Q&A with the photographers. I throw a posture of seriousness and nod my head when I think I ought to. My beer-massaged thoughts meander across the mainly female audience. They have more facial hair than I have. I’ve never been in a room with so many women I’ve not fancied before.

“PETER, would you like to explain your strategy for the programme and your documentation of the actions to combat all types of violence against children, young people and women in the UK and all aspects of this phenomenon including violence in the family, violence in schools and other establishments, violence at work, commercial sexual exploitation, genital mutilation, health repercussions, trafficking in human beings and rehabilitation of perpetrators?”

At the exhibition after party, one of the curators asks “Was I too scared to apply the humour and irony evident in much of my work to this particular project?”


24th Getxophoto 2011 (pronounced Getcho) is a superbly innovative festival on the coast about 100km east of San Sebastian. Huge murals hang from buildings. Recycle bins are photo-wrapped. You can peep at some projects and even put you beer on others. Last year the theme was ‘Leisure’ and I had seven images from my Drinking of England project printed on around 5,000 coasters. How my work should be viewed - through the bottom of a glass. I wasn’t able to make the trip and have used this opportunity of proximity to take a look at this years theme: In Praise of the Elderly. During lunch with the festival team, we suck back crisp Txakoli, (a slightly sparkling, very dry white wine that I’m horrified to find out, has a low alcohol content), nibble regional sausage and discuss next years theme - Faith.


Does Faith exist? Yes It does. How do I know this? Because I spent a week in the town. (Well I was supposed to spend a week in the town but the only bar ran out of draft beer on day six so I left early.) Faith, approximately 130 miles north of Rapid City, South Dakota, population 548. Birthplace of Cathy Bach, aka ‘Daisy Duke’ from TV’s Dukes of Hazard and home to ‘Sue,’ the finest find of a T-Rex skeleton now on display in Chicago. During the week, I had met and photographed Gilbert Jones, the only barber for 100-miles who recalled the very real problems growing up in Faith in the “dirty 30’s,” when there was no electricity and plagues of grasshoppers frequently blacked out the sun. The local pastor-come-artist of the Faith Christian centre, Terry Botjen, was so hot-for-god he painted me a religious landscape complete with the healing power of the almighty. I photographed the balloon bursting competition, diving competition, melon eating and seed spitting competitions.



On my way back into Bilbao for the night I make a note to get my Getxophoto 2012 submission together. I would like to report of my cultural absorbing of Bilbao night life. Truth is, after the previous days early start, I’m completely wiped and spend the evening in my hotel room with a six-pack and crisp pack, watching rhythmic gymnastics on television. The only Olympic tickets I applied for (and failed to get) was for the flawless beauty of this sport. It has been a passion since upgrading from the marching majorettes and cheerleaders of my youth. The grace, coordination, agility and artistry with ball, ribbon, rope, clubs or hoop of rhythmic gymnastics to me, is God’s own proof.



25th The plan for the trip to northern Spain was to do it on a budget. The flights were paid for and per diems of 400 euros allocated by the exhibition organisers for travel about town and accommodation. My return flight is 22.10, I’m already over budget and have 11 hours to occupy after checking out of my Bilbao hotel. I visit the old town for breakfast, stroll to the bullring, pay homage at the Estadio San Mames (home to Athletic Bilbao), pause for pastries in the park and gawp at the Guggenheim. I check my watch - seven hours until departure. I hit the bars for some Pintxo (Pincho); basically, a tiny sandwich made from what is found left in the fridge - a dollop of mayonnaise, a gherkin tip, an anchovy or prawn. They are served with equally small portions of booze. I try out my Spanglish: "Grande rojo vino, grande blanco vino, grande copa de cava." 11 glasses later, I check my watch. I’m late for my plane.



29th Summer has made a roaring comeback, the mercury touches 29C. I can’t possibly work on a day like this and flip-flop over to the Villiers Terrace. After lunch of beetroot and goats cheese salad with roasted walnuts, I get to work trying to fathom my new phone. I’ve already forgotten to save crucial contacts from the SIM. Checking what’s left, I discover numbers of yesteryear: retired picture editors, defunct magazines, and film processing labs long gone. I begin the cull and stop at H for Hetherington, Tim. There are two numbers. ‘Delete all details?’

8th I have a friend who doesn’t drink. Last week my wife went to ask them advice on cutting down. When my wife returned, the friend was back on the sauce. The resulting bender was so frightening, this week I have cut down. The past three days have been irritable, tense, and uninspiring. I’ve not made one joke or had one original thought. In an effort to uncork the creative juices, I pour a bottle of Bergerie de la Bastide, Vin de Pays de Mediterranee 2010, sit down and write up this diary. Chin Chin!


 


A version of this feature first appeared in issue #2 of Hungry Eye magazine, home of the Dench Diary


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