Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Dench Diary - September 2010

The Dench Diary:

September 2010

The Dench diary: November

6th: Start of the new school term and I can finally get back to some sort of discipline. There’s a lot to be said for having your own studio or a desk among other creative types. Unfortunately, my desk is at the end of my bed. The window over looks the sun terrace of my local pub. I’m caught between a shot and a soft place. I really should consider relocating. I get scores of requests from young photographers and college graduates asking to hang out at my studio. Not sure how to reply, perhaps they could change the sheets, then buy me a pint. The school holidays have left me with a backlog of 500-plus Tiffs that need tweaks and captions so crack on. I miss hurling a sack of exposed film over the counter of a lab, nipping off for a glass, collecting the film and China graphing an edit over a bottle. Now I don’t need to go out, it seems a bit shabby uncorking a Merlot in your pyjamas.

7th: I’ve a shoot for the Guardian Weekend. This is a surprise. I’d written them off the regular client list. My contacts had largely moved on and my last conversation with the picture desk revealed they’d be working their contract photographers harder. In 2003 they sent me to Jamaica to shoot a nine-page cover story on Jamaican gigolos and the white middle-class women who go there for a taste of the ‘Big Bamboo’. I’m reminded of this on today’s shoot, a portrait in Brixton; there’s the whiff of Jamaica on arrival. Despite the welcome call, the editorial walls are tumbling down and I’m riddled with dread. Talk with VII agency snapper Marcus Bleasdale about my concerns. He’s just been paid five figures giving a workshop in Kashmir. He’s a different league but it’s a thought. Perhaps I could give a UK workshop on how to press the national self-hate button.

It’s time I had a book. A decade of snapping the English is shaping up. There’s a movement called ‘Self Publish, Be Happy’, Photofusion is hosting workshops for £375; this doesn’t sound like a fairytale beginning and I’m unconvinced. I grew up in love with Cornerhouse Publications, a book for me is the Holy Grail of photography but it has to be ‘properly’ published; Dewi Lewis, Chris Boot, Steidl, Contrasto, I’d even take a Taschen. It’s a long and daunting process but I think I’m ready. I’ve spent months intermittently preparing files for a Blurb book dummy. When it arrives, the images are all wonky. I give Caroline Cortizo a call and arrange a lunch date. She’s an image producer and master of her craft, having worked on projects including the UK At Home book, The Obama Time Capsule (a print-on-demand book with Against All Odds) and i-Witness with Tom Stoddart.

Lunch with Caroline is everything I expected, inspiring, informative and honest. She explains her current take on the world of books. It sounds shut. She explains with a poignant example involving the difficult process of getting Eugene Richards’s multi-award winning War is Personal project into print. A fascinating lunch ends four hours later. Caroline has restricted herself to three pints and the beef salad; I had the fish and chips. The bill comes to £75, seems I was thirsty. I arrive home five hours later, having forgotten to collect one of my unsold Foto8 Summer Show prints. The other has a second chance of purchase at the Crane Kalman Gallery in Brighton.

14th A parcel from the Get XoPhoto Festival arrives. In it are a book, coasters and a wall chart. They distributed 3,000 coasters with six images from my Drinking of England project. The bars’ locations are marked on the wall chart by a wine glass, seems appropriate. I start packaging sets of the coasters for a mail out to advertising agencies as a ‘DESKTOP DENCH’ exhibition.

15th Last month I was commissioned to shoot a five-day feature on ‘Traditional London’ for a German magazine. I find it difficult to shoot creatively on the street for more than six hours a day and it’s become prolonged. Today I stride out with purpose to nail the job and find ‘Posh Schoolboys’ and ‘City Drinkers’ to photograph.

17th I like Fridays. I walk my daughter Grace to school, inhale the world of yummy mummies, back home to do a bit of work on the computer before returning to pick her up. There’s another book on the doorstep, the Sony World Photography Awards 2010. It’s five months since the awards ceremony but worth the wait. It looks, feels and smells great. You don’t get that with an iPad. I should invent a ‘real book smell’ app. It includes meaty contributions from Pellegrin, Stirton, Astrada and 14 pages of photos by Magnum legend Eve Arnold. I won second place in the advertising category and my image spans two pages near the centre. I’m pleased to be involved. Even more pleased to discover I’m their ‘Photographer of the Month’ with an online interview about the winning image and a separate gallery from the England Uncensored project. This is shaping up to be a fabulous day as I get to work Tweeting and Facebooking the news. I even call my Mum. By lunchtime, however, the freelance reality bubble has started to deflate. Despite me feeling a success, the diary rudely admits to only one commissioned day’s pay. The bubble parps its last when I go to pick up Grace. A successful commercial photographer lives at the end of my road. Our daughters are in the same class. That’s where the similarities end. I often see him burning up Crouch End in one of his personalised motors. I think today it was the EOS 1D. I ask Grace what she wants to do. “Go to the pub and eat chewy sweets, Daddy.” This perks me up. I’m not a father to disappoint.

18th Photojournalism may be dead but the trigger finger of this photojournalist still twitches, so off to shoot the Pope. Well, at least buy the T-shirt to photograph as a still life piece of contemporary art later. The last comparable event in London I tried to photograph was Diana’s funeral. Her coffin passed as I was photographing the price sticker on the sole of a young lady’s shoe. The enduring image for me from that day was a shot of her coffin heading north on a deserted motorway. Today I aspire to the discipline of David Modell, the photograph’s creator. It’ll be interesting to see what images come from the Pope’s visit. I don’t envy the news and agency snappers. I once got lumped in with them on a commission for the Sunday Times Magazine to shoot a feature on the Queen’s royal tour to South Africa. We’d arrive on the bus three hours early. The pack would dash to the same spot and wait. Liz would eventually show up, they’d shoot for seconds, dash back to the bus, swap and send files. It was a lesson to be able to shoot around the periphery and the approach I’ll take today. During the morning I bump into three snappers, all Getty.

In the afternoon I meet Maciej Dakowicz (check out his brilliant Cardiff at Night) and Joni Karanka who run the Third Floor Gallery in Cardiff. They kicked off the gallery with LoveUK, my first major UK solo show. They’re in good form and off to the Street Photography Now book launch; Maciej has four pages. I buy them both a pint before heading off to a neighbourhood street party and afterwards party with friends where I take the best pictures of the day of the kids dancing around.

20th: An email request has arrived out lining a project being co-financed by the European Commission. The request has come as a direct result of exhibiting at GetXoPhoto. I’ve been asked to produce a photo essay documenting the social integration of second-generation migrant girls from North Africa and South Asia. Six countries will contribute work for an exhibition in San Sebastian, Spain, in June next year as well as inclusion in a catalogue and on awareness posters. I will be paid 1,500 Euros. This is serious stuff and I begin the research. I used to pitch editorial story ideas regularly until response to them dwindled. Firing up the old investigative brain cells again proves hard work.

22nd: Blurb replaced my wonky book. It arrived with a ‘Clarisonic Skin Cleansing System’, an interesting customer service strategy. Fire off an application for the National Media Museum 2010 Photography Awards for early career and emerging photographers. I’ve been emerging for more than a decade. I want to arrive. Continue research for my European Commission initiative on migrant girls, enquiries so far have met with an eruption of silence. I can’t stop previsualising my images as minimum depth-of-field, solemn-looking portraits. If I went to war would I shoot grainy black and white? Must remember to be true to my style and work this to an advantage.

23rd: My commercial agent has called. It’s been a while. There’s the possibility of a small ad job. I’m very fond of my agent. They’re the ‘grandes dames’ of advertising who made their money representing car photographers in the 1980s. I’m worried they might retire. When I left a previous agency in 2005 I owed over £35,000 on credit cards. They got me an eight-day job that paid it off. Admittedly over the years, my roving liver has slugged a proportion of it back. Lately, however, the situation has become a little frustrating. I’ve had a great year in terms of releasing projects, having work shown at major festivals, and would like to pipe that exposure to the commercial world. I’m World Photography Organisation Photographer of the Month, you know! It may be time to put the ‘grass is greener’ fingers out and head off to some appointments in town. Afterwards, my impressions are I’m already sunbathing on the right side of the fence.

24th: I receive a copy of PP Magazine with the first instalment of The Dench Diary, fold it under my arm and stride towards my local, this calls for a drink. I stop halfway, saturated with dread. I know what it says but what was I thinking? Photographers are supposed to present themselves as flawless models of success. It all seemed rather innocuous ensconced at home. I feel like the Penn & Teller of photography. Sod it. The shiny pro approach hasn’t made me rich. I order a double and read the interview with Tim Hetherington first. Tim and I were on the World Press Joop Swart Masterclass in 2002, an initiative bringing 12 promising young photographers together in Amsterdam for a week of mass debate. Since then, Tim’s career has taken him to the Civil War in Liberia and the trenches of Afghanistan. I’ve been to a nudist resort and dwarf convention. I give my effort the once over and order a bottle. Darlings I’m a writer, scrub that, a columnist. I’m drinking for two professions now.

25th: This weekend I’m away at a family wedding in Sheffield. I’m not the photographer. Even my own relatives have stopped employing me.

29th: My computer has a virus. Every time I log on to the internet I see pictures by Simon Roberts. Even the more obscure sites. The man’s a marketing rash, a one-man modern handbook on self-promotion. I’m hoping to catch some tips this evening and have RSVP’d a seat at a talk he’s giving about the Election Project at London’s Host Gallery. I’ve a quick portrait to shoot first for Stern magazine and head into the kind of weather you dread as a colour photographer. The journalist has a clear idea of what images should illustrate the feature. They often do. I photograph a Korean economist at a newsagents, vacuum cleaner shop, in the toilets of an All Bar One and at the hairdressers. The talk provides useful nuggets on the logistics of planning a big project but I duck out early to catch theend of Champions League action.

30th: I wake late and agitated. Last night I dreamt of Simon Roberts. You can me in person each month on the Professional Photographer podcast available on iTunes or at

The Dench Diary - August 2010

The Dench Diary:

August 2010

pages 34 and 35

Looking through the work of Elliot Erwitt, and Martin Parr in the library of Bournemouth Art College in 1990, I decided to take photography as a career seriously. If you could travel the world, make people laugh and think then that was a fine way to live. If you could have a few drinks along the way then that was the life for me. Having been fired from all previous ‘proper’ jobs except for a stint selling trousers in Top Man, self-employment and photography seemed the only option left.

According to the tax man, I’ve been a professional photographer since 1998. Twelve years later, I own no property, have no savings, shares or bonds, no car in the garage, no garage. I do have a number of global accolades, memories in the bank and have had the privilege to work in over 50 countries across the planet. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Until this year, I’ve always made my living and my losses from photography. After a rotten April and May – only two commissioned days’ pay – I joined a recruitment agency to pay some bills. Three days as a garden labourer and 11 as a canteen assistant at Capital Radio followed: “Would you like honey on your porridge, Toby Anstis? Brown sauce with your bacon, Jamie Theakston?” I bumped into Johnny Vaughan on my round to stock the office fridges. He clocked me for a moment and did a double take. I’d photographed him recently for a five-page feature in the Telegraph Magazine. He looked well. This is where we meet; my introduction to you. These are interesting times, difficult times; perhaps the biggest hurdle of my career: how to adapt and diversify. ‘Photojournalism is dead’ is a constant headline and I’m starting to believe it. The game is survival and the game is on. I’ve £20 in the bank and just had to delay my rent.

This is unexpected. I check a News International remittance: ‘Payment due date: 30 July’ then in brackets: ‘payment should be received within eight working days of the payment due date’.

August 1st: A new month brings renewed optimism. July was a success; a chunk of money invoiced and August is off to a flyer. My new project, England Uncensored – a laugh-out-loud romp through this badly behaved land – is profiled in The Sunday Times Magazine. I get three pages including the cover; six images in total. Not great, not bad but they’ll pay £1,000 on publication. The reason I approached the STM is because from previous experience it gets the best response. The industry takes notice. In January they gave six pages to my project LoveUK to promote a solo show at the Third Floor Gallery in Cardiff. Publication coincided with Valentine’s Day; it’s good to have a peg. The Sun picked up on it and ran a portfolio across its centre spread. Direct commissions followed and some regional papers picked up on the exhibition. I’m hoping for a similar response.

The morning is spent waiting for The Sun to ring and emailing the Dailies about England Uncensored. There is no response. I turn my attention to an upcoming commission. My kind of job: four days are booked in with a writer later in the month. It’s a cover story on ‘Traditional London’ for a German travel mag. I’m to do another day on my own and I have a list: pubs, greasy spoons, wooden escalators, Routemaster buses, clubs and casinos. More than a day’s work but it’s a quiet week so I will give it two plus half a day’s research. Start Googling ‘traditional London pubs’.

3rd: 7am and it’s sunny skies; a snapper’s delight. I’m thinking saturated primary colours; red Routemaster buses. Head out early before the sun peaks. Think about shooting some stock on the way. It took me a long time to take stock sales seriously. This was a mistake. I thought of stock as left over pictures and that those who shot stock deliberately were good amateurs or cheesy pros. When I started putting my projects with Corbis in 2005 and monthly sales began averaging around £800, I took notice. The market’s dived. I have around 3,500 images for sale online across three respected agencies. The last sales report was a fat blob of a zero. I try to flush this from my thoughts and spend the day running after red buses.

4th: Today I must submit my entry for the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize – the premier photographic portrait award with £12,000 up for grabs. Over the years, I have had entries exhibited in 1999, 2001 and 2003. The last seven years have drawn a blank; a few years unselected and a few I couldn’t afford to enter. This year, I have entered one portrait that I think has a real shot but I’m chancing two entries. Set off to get them printed at The Printspace and deliver them to the London College of Communication. Total cost of entering two prints: £118.

5th: There comes a time when I think every photographer should turn their lens towards home. For years I’ve avoided this, following the principle: ‘not on your own doorstep’. Recently, it’s become clear that I owe my hometown of Weymouth a lot. I was born with sea salt in my nostrils. My earliest memories are colourful: deck chairs, beach huts, bumper boats, Punch and Judy. All have shaped my work along with the seaside sense of humour. I’ve two commissions booked in for Coast magazine: one in Bournemouth on the 14th and one in Margate on the 21st; not much in-between. It’s a shoot window. I have an idea for a series on photographers who shoot the town in which they grew up and discuss how it influenced their work. Could be magazine, online, multimedia or exhibition. I try not to think too much about it. Trust my gut and pack my kit; it’s time to go home. Have been recruited to go to Eastbourne to help my sister move house. One of the diversions of being freelance is that if there’s a family emergency or sickness, it becomes my responsibility; freelancers can always reschedule.

10th: I begin shooting in Weymouth. Everyone and everything feels sticky and damp. You leave the beach smelling of cigarettes. Bars sell jelly bean-flavoured cocktails and T-shirts declare: ‘I Luv Da Muff’. What strikes me most, walking around, are the snatched conversations, mostly blaming immigrants for one thing or another; even the gingers are getting a bashing. I’m thinking an audio-visual piece might be the way forward but am unprepared. I stop a pensioner wearing a T-shirt with the slogan, ‘Sex, Drugs & Sausage Rolls’. He tells me to “piss off”. Walking the beach, I’ve been called a ‘paedo’ twice. The local paper headline today reads ‘Man stabbed in night of violence’ – this depresses me. I wasn’t there to document it. I know I’ll have to try a late night shooting the town. This depresses me further. I take the open top bus to Portland Bill and shoot some nice calming coastal stock.

11th In May, I was asked to exhibit at the Getxophoto festival in northern Spain. The theme is ‘Leisure’ and Martin Parr is to cut the ribbon. In the past I’ve been referred to as ‘the affordable Martin Parr’ and ‘Martin Parr’s drunken brother’ and it tickles me to be involved. Six of my images are to be exhibited on 3,000 coasters in bars across the area. How my work should be viewed. There’s an urgent email from the curator and I spend the morning formatting pictures for the brochure and captioning.

12th Documenting my hometown is not as straight forward as I’d hoped. As a product of the town, I’m shackled to its past and its people and have spent more time sipping wine than snapping winos. Tom Stoddart once advised that if you do a personal project, make sure you think it through, keep focused and do a thorough job. He wouldn’t be pleased. I end the day at 3am kneeling in the sand on Weymouth beach with my head in a deck chair. I am 38 years old.

13th Friday the 13th. The date says it all. Sleep until opening time; shades on and down the Red Lion for hair of the dog. Four glasses of wine with ham and chips does the job and it’s back to bed.

14th Up at 6.30am for a train to Bournemouth where I’ll be spending the day shooting a beach hut community for Coast magazine. The coast is about as far as I get to travel these days. In 2007, 76 days were commissioned shoots abroad; 2008, 56 days; 2009, 15 days; this year, three and all to France! I watched Clooney’s Up in the Air last night and wept. Foreign travel has been one of the major casualties of budget cuts. I miss the thrill and finger the BA executive club silver card that still hangs, fading, from my Domke. The shoot goes okay. On paper I have a clear list: eight pages, a double-page opener of the group then six single page portraits of hut owners. One doesn’t turn up so I find a replacement and between the rain I think there’s enough brighter weather to deliver a good set.

15th: I stall my ‘Shoot Weymouth’ plan, call my family down for a holiday and shoot stock intermittently: some images of my daughter bouncing around and of Weymouth’s annual highlight – the carnival.

21st: An assignment for Coast magazine in Margate. The traditional seaside ‘freak show’ is making a comeback. This is a terrific feature to shoot. I meet The Headless Lady, Girl in a Goldfish Bowl, Electra resplendent in satin pants and Ukulele Eric, who asks if I’m straight. Assume he’s the funny man. The highlight is taking a portrait of the flea circus proprietor Dr Jon while a man bathes in the sea behind.

22nd: I have a screening at this year’s prestigious Visa Pour L’image Festival of Photojournalism in Perpignan. It’s my fifth screening in 10 years and I’ve only made it to one of them. Admittedly, I’ve been there for some of the others but too distracted to go; regular attendees will understand. This year, I’m determined to go. How many festivals of photojournalism can be left? My project LoveUK will be shown on the evening of the 31st during professional week. I design a quirky email invite ready to send out on Monday. If News International pay up for the ‘England Uncensored’ feature, I’m on the plane.

23rd: This week, I’m booked to work with a journalist to complete the ‘Traditional London’ feature. I’ve not heard from her and begin panicking. I’ve had to turn down other work to accommodate this commission and arrange care for my daughter who is on school holiday. I email, call and text without reply. Finally an answer. She’s not coming. I calm down and decide to be positive and ring the picture editor. All’s okay and I’m to proceed alone. This is good news.

24th: The ‘Traditional London’ shoot goes very well. I’ve been told to tone down my cynicism and shoot with more of a wink than a wallop. I try to sneak in some bum shots and wit. It’s a refreshing reminder of why I get up, go out and take pictures. Every day offers a different challenge, from the weather to the effects of the previous night’s imbibing. Ian Berry once commented that if your first encounter of a day’s shoot doesn’t go well, you might as well go back to bed. I concur. Fortunately everyone I meet is welcoming and I start the week on a high.

28th: Read Clive Booth’s dispatches in the September issue of Professional Photographer magazine; an account of a corporate commission embracing 12 countries. A photographer only reads of others’ success. This particular account hurts. I was in the final few being considered for the job. My understanding was the client thought my folio a little too risky. This is happening with more frequency than it was a few years ago. I resolve to produce a more corporate folio and start raking my archive for shots of pens, cufflinks and smiling office employees in suits.

30th I have an email remittance from News International, I’m to be paid for ‘England Uncensored’ – ‘payment due date 31 August’. Made it by the frame of a film. Off to Perpignan for one last hurrah. All aboard! Then I read in brackets underneath, ‘payment should be received within eight working days of the payment due date’.

A version of this first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Professional Photographer Magazine

Thursday, 13 January 2011

iMac 27 Inch Review

A version of this review was first published in Professional Photographer Magazine

As a trained Photojournalist I try not to judge or be judged. I have a sensible haircut, no tattoos, no Bling and avoid branded clothes. I admit to no allegiances, except one. I am a Mac Man. In 2002 I was sent on assignment to San Francisco by The Face Magazine to document a Mac convention. Computer geeks! I thought and was prepared to be unimpressed. Witnessing Steve Jobs casually attired in black long-sleeved top, washed out Levis and rimless glasses unveil the iMac G4/800 to a crowd of whooping disciples tweaked my interest. I trotted off to shoot a portrait of fellow Englishman Jonathan “Jonny” Ive, Apple’s then traditionally media-shy Vice President and chief designer. He was the personification of cool and gently imparted the merits of Mac with remarkable lucidity. By the end of our session, I’d been truly bitten by the Apple.

8 years later and I’m eagerly awaiting the delivery of a 27-inch iMac to my home. With a minority share of the market, Apple doesn’t want their computers to be seen as a luxury item. This is difficult to implement. I un-box the contents with the same jittery fingers that unzipped my wife’s wedding dress. I lay the contents out for inspection. There are 3; screen, keyboard box (also containing the mouse), plug. The thrill is comparable with being seated on a First Class flight anticipating the delights ahead. From delivery to start-up takes less than 10 minutes and I’ve taken my time. The Galaxy screen saver dissolves into view with pinprick clarity. I flinch for my shades. In haste I check the electricity meter. It’s clicking round at the usual daytime rate. I sit down, breathe in and click the 7th icon of the 22-icon tool bar. Aperture 3 bounces into operation.

The previous afternoon I attended an Aperture course at UK Apple HQ. Sitting in the waiting room I pondered if my review would be one of the Maccolades being flashed up on the wall. The Aperture Product Manager shadowed by an impossibly crisp Apple PR skipped with zest and fluidity through the MacAp combination. There was a tonne of information. I had difficulty absorbing the lunchtime drinks menu in the Slug & Lettuce but remained focused. I’m new to Aperture and am reliably informed it has 200+ new features including Places, a feature that allows you to explore your library based on where your photos were taken using an extensive Geotagging system. Reverse geocoding translates GPS coordinates into proper place names. Photos with GPS are automatically plotted on the interactive map. If your camera doesn’t have GPS it can be extracted from an external device including an i-Phone. Men like maps, Photographers like to travel. It’s the perfect addiction and one you can feed by constantly pinning where you’ve been and gloat to any ear that will listen. Places provide useful information when key-wording images for stock and searching the archive for a destination specific request from picture editors.

Clicking on Faces a corkboard flicks on screen with 3 Polaroid’s tacked to it that remarkably manages to placate every gender and ethnicity. I haven’t seen so much corkboard since my bathroom of 76’ and am comforted by the memory. Faces make it easy to locate people in your library using automatic face detection and recognition. Each face you confirm helps Aperture find even more photos of that person, in effect, becoming smarter and smarter the more you use it. Alternatively you can choose not to tag that tiresome Uncle or irritable Aunt. A welcome tool but one I’ll leave for the family album hobbyists.

Back home with a crammed head I decide on a streamlined process of evaluation. To set myself a project and test the MacAp combination to see if it really is . . . ‘THE ULTIMATE DIGITAL DARKROOM’ - from the point of assessing workflow, speed of use and output etc. Before I get to work my daughter interrupts “Oh my word Daddy, can I play Club Penguin?” She does and takes to the interactive world of Antarctica with aplomb. The volume is adjusted to 1 notch above half way providing the crystal clear surround sound of Penguins at play. I interpret her ‘coos’ as admiring the 16:9 aspect ratio of the environmentally friendly backlit 27-inch LED display and ‘aaahhhs’ as appreciation for the 1000:1 typical contrast ratio delivering sublime detail from every angle.

She’s off to bed and I’m back to work. Surveying the wireless desktop is satisfying. The keyboard, so often a fixture parked directly in front of the screen is pleasingly mobile, light and low profile. Not a consonant is dropped as I tap away from the sofa on the other side of the room. It’s apparently effective from 33ft away but I live in a London flat and would have to involve my neighbour to confirm. The Mac mouse feels a little clunky. The design is as you might imagine the prototype of a panty liner to be. It has the tactility of a shoe- horn I made for Mother’s Day at Secondary School in Design & Communication plastics but it does the job and the weight is spot on. As my time with the magic mouse runs up the clock it becomes a welcome accomplice.

Aperture 3 supports RAW formats from more than 150 digital cameras and backs. Disappointingly the previews are Pixelated. Even on the largest preview setting it’s difficult to assess which RAW file to edit for import. I might be playing the fool but can’t find a solution. Each file has to be double clicked to check clarity of content. The checked files are imported flawlessly and fast. Working on the files Aperture 3 begins to excel. You can flick seamlessly between images and the adjustment inspector. Enlarging RAW files up to 1000% gets you right into the lap of the image. Sharpen, saturate, curves, retouch, colour balance, brushes, job done. An image that usually takes me 10 minutes to tweak is halved. In addition to ready-to-use adjustment presets you can apply your own adjustments and save them as custom Adjustment Presets to shave off even more time. A nifty little feature worth a mention is the ‘Focus Points’ overlay which highlights the active point when the shutter was released.

The new non-destructive brushes are a revelation. 14 highly responsive quick choices can paint in an adjustment with a few clicks working on the tiniest area to the complete image with ease doing away with the need to master difficult filter and layer settings. You don’t even need to click OK to apply the adjustment, just adjust and move, adjust and move. I manage to eat my kebab with one hand while dodging, sharpening and saturating with the other. After a while enhancements become precise, intuitive and fast helped by the one click built in edge detection.

There’s a 17 choice list for exporting a version of the worked on file. Be sure to check Aperture > Presets > Export and set the dpi or it will be processed at the default 72dpi, one rooky mistake and an afternoon of work gone. The editorial client I was submitting to would not have been pleased. I turn off the radio and barely detect noise as the 64-bit processing on Intel Core 2 duo-based system running Mac OS X Snow Leopard goes to work processing the files.

Images mean nothing unless people see them. A photographer without an audience doesn’t exist. Fortunately Ap3 has enough quick ways to share your images and satisfy even the most combustible of egos. The omnipotent Facebook & Flickr are a constant corner of the eye screen presence waiting to be sated. For the more patient there’s the bookstore with a myriad of combinations to explore. I also had great fun with the multimedia presentation system where you can combine music, voiceover and location audio controlling the pace of your slideshow with the tap of a finger.

With the 27-inch iMac size does matter and what you do with it. Every inch is there to be taken advantage of and Aperture recognises this and gives your image every opportunity to access all four corners with minimum fuss. The combination has worked. This Pro is pleased. At the moment I’m in the moment and reluctant to return to my usual operating system. Is it he Ultimate Digital Darkroom combination? It’s pretty close. Time will make that judgement.

Talking of which, nearly time for the return of the Mac. The hand ticks round. The inevitable knock at the door draws near. Like the perfect escort, Mistress Mac’s performance has been impeccable. Working hard when required, discreet when the circumstance demanded, paying attention to detail and always looking immaculate. I caress the edges, run my finger over the DVD and SD orifice, finger the 4 USB hubs & 1 Firewire 800 connection, take one last look into the seductive vibrancy of that sumptuous interface, send any incriminating evidence of our dalliance to the trash and click shut down. It’s time to put the Mac in the box.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Bright Eyes - Street Photography

This interview was first published in the September 2010 Photography Monthly Magazine

Peter Dench likes to have fun, but doesn’t like to waste time. He enjoys getting out and shooting, but dislikes simply wandering around without purpose. He prefers instead to photograph events and places that, by their very nature, will guarantee colourful and arresting images. He’s not an obsessive photographer who always has a camera slung around his neck. In fact, he won’t get his camera out of its bag for weeks unless he’s being paid and before setting out he has to have a strong sense of what he’s trying to achieve.

Take for example the image of a boy diving into a swimming pool. This was taken in a small US town on the weekend of American Independence Day. Peter knew in advance there would be celebrations and situations that he could visit that would have the potential for some great shots.

“I have a very naive way of shooting and chase primary colours. I’ll run after a girl in red shoes or shiny pants or holding a yellow umbrella. It’s a simple, childish and boyish enthusiasm I have for shiny things. Never let me walk past a La Senza shop.”

Peter grew up by the seaside in Weymouth, Dorset, just two minutes from the beach, a setting he feels has had a big influence on his style today. Having studied photography as a teenager, he decided to become a professional photographer because he was fired from every other job, which at the age of 16 ranged from till boy in Asda to sales assistant in Top Man. He knew early on that he wasn’t particularly good at being told what to do by an authority figure.

­­It is perhaps this anarchic attitude that informs his work. His approach maybe targeted but his aim is to capture the funny side of life. “I’m always looking for humour in my pictures. Charlie Chaplin is a big influence and I often try to address serious subjects in a humorous way when appropriate. My aim is to make people laugh, make people think. Looking through the books of Elliott Erwitt and Martin Parr is the reason I got into photography. If you can travel the world making people laugh and making them think, then to me that’s a fine way to live.”

Peter was 14 when he started taking pictures, shooting things such as butterflies and plants. Eventually he turned the camera towards people and began to take it seriously as a career at the age of 18 after looking at photography books in the library of Bournemouth arts college.

“I knew in 1992 that I wanted to be a professional photographer, when I enrolled in a degree course in photographic studies at Derby. By the end of the degree Jonathan Worth and I were the only two photographers who didn’t photograph our friends or ourselves naked. It was that type of course where Cindy Sherman and Jo Spence were held up as the inspiration. It was very academic, which helped me enormously because all I wanted to do was get out and shoot people and see the world in photographs.”

This direction helped him to pick his subject. He had become class conscious for the first time at the age of 18 when he arrived in Bournemouth and realised that there were people in the world with double-barrelled names.

“I found this time fascinating and during the three years I spent in Derby I tried to visit as many public schools and country houses as I could. I got invited to the Duke of Devonshire’s tercentenary celebrations [at Chatsworth] because I told him I was doing my dissertation on historical representations of the aristocracy, but I just wanted a free lunch, some good quality wine and a great subject to photograph.”

In 1995, the week after he graduated, Peter headed to London and went straight to Reuters. His plan was to make it big. Armed with three portfolios he walked through the doors of the news agency expecting to get signed up immediately. The portfolio he left was immediately lost in the system; he was forced to sign on and spent the next two years on the dole.

“I soon realised the portfolio I had wasn’t up to scratch, so I started applying for press passes to events such as Ascot and Epsom, and turning up at Henley [for the rowing] – classic summer events – and I got picture editors involved quite early with what I was trying to do. I’d go and see Aidan Sullivan at the Sunday Times Magazine and he would reject everything I was showing him, but I’d take his advice on board and go back three months later to show him that I’d listened and my developments, which he’d also reject.”

This cycle continued until 1998 when Peter had finally progressed to a level where Sullivan was able to give him a commission. Shortly afterwards he was also asked to work for GQ magazine.

“I think there are two ways to become a professional photographer. Either you assist and then try to make it on your own or you try to make it on your own from the beginning, and that was the route I chose to take, but there’s no right or wrong way. It was two years of persistence and knocking on doors, which I still have to do.”

Shortly after getting this break, Peter joined the IPG agency for which Tom Stoddart was shooting stories on AIDS in Africa and Zed Nelson was photographing gun culture in America. Peter was encouraged to pick a subject as well and with the project drink UK he did exactly that.“There’s an underlying theme in my life. Drink is my passion. I grew up in a brewery and my family were all involved in the industry. My home town was a violent place to grow up in; there was a Navy base and 180 bars with holiday makers. It was a mess, but an enjoyable one too, so that’s the culture I wanted to document.”

Peter’s long-term aim is to document England and to understand the country. He does this by breaking it down into manageable chunks with a specific theme or title, a method which also mean he can raise money for his projects.

His drink UK project earned him a World Press Award and 11 pages in the Sunday Times Magazine, which really fired his enthusiasm. The next section he concentrated on was ethnicity in the UK, followed by rain UK and then love UK. Peter treats each subject in the same way and believes you have to be classless. He doesn’t have any tattoos, doesn’t wear any religious symbols and doesn’t even want people to know which football team he supports when on a job.

“I just try to be a blank canvas because it’s not about you when you’re shooting. I try to be as unremarkable as possible. When shooting I wear no logos, there are no allegiances anywhere, so the subject can project on to you what they want to be. The best asset I have is this unassuming presence where people aren’t afraid of me, I behave accordingly and they don’t judge. Generally people get on with me and let me shoot what I think I need to.”

That said, he makes no attempt to conceal the fact he is a photographer. Before switching to digital, Peter shot exclusively on Mamiya medium format cameras for almost 10 years. Shooting wide and as close as possible with such a cumbersome camera meant the last thing he could be was discreet.

“If I walked into a pub I’d either have people saying ‘don’t point that f***ing thing at me’ or ‘come and join us.’ I make no disguise about being a photographer. The thrill I get is shooting real people doing real things in a certain style that is very simple. There’s a drive to see things such as girls changing backstage. Who wouldn’t want to see that and who wouldn’t want to be there with a 6x7 camera? It’s the access to the ordinary, but for me they are extraordinary situations.”

His realistic approach is also the reason he is in demand with advertising clients. They like the fact that his work looks so natural. Even when it is all set up and every element and detail has been approved, Peter will try to make it look like a grabbed, humorous moment, because that’s what clients want him to recreate. They are looking for him to produce something that will make people smile.

In 2007 Peter was approached by FIFA – football’s governing body – to shoot a 15-month project, 26 stories across 20 countries. The choice was between two photographers. Both were asked if they shot digital. The other photographer said no, Peter said yes and got the job.

“I immediately ran home, bought one, called the photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale and he took me through the digital menu on the back, and it’s stuck. I still look at websites for 5x4 handheld cameras and I’ve still got film under my bed; in terms of commercial work film is a non-starter, but for personal projects I still shoot a few rolls.”

Today, Peter shoots on a couple of Canon EOS 5Ds but, as many professional photographers maintain, he believes that kit is not the key to success. “For me it was just what I was comfortable with and knew how to shoot, and then sticking with it, but in making the transition from film to digital I had to make sure I could continue with the style that I had developed.”

Hopeless at shooting in low light, Peter always feared that when it came to developing his shots he would see nothing, so he would blast them with flash or shoot only in bright sunlight so something would burn on to the negative.

Today he still uses fill-in flash, two stops under, with a Metz 45 flash gun clamped to the side of his camera. He works with two cameras, one with a 35mm lens and the other with a 28mm lens, but also carries a 70-200mm lens in case he needs to get a bit closer and is unable physically to do so. Peter always shoots on ISO 400 so he can move from outside to indoors and deal with lower light. He carries a light meter and takes a general reading, continually checking to see if there is any change. Usually he shoots at either f/11 or f/16 and dials the shutter speed to match.

“I can always recognise a good image of mine from just a thumbnail; I don’t have to enlarge it, because it’s so bold. Tom Stoddart once said to me that if you photograph a girl in a yellow dress you just see the dress, but if you photograph her in black and white you see her soul. I don’t buy into that, I just see a picture without colour and it depresses and disappoints me. I don’t think enough photographers consider the colours that go into their shots any more. It’s a real consideration of mine.”

Good street photography is about interesting lines, shapes and angles, and Peter is obsessed with clean lines, clean spaces and verticals.

“I live my life in a ridiculous way, any photographer does. You’re trying to make sense of the world through a rectangle. Composition for me is about roving your eye around the whole image and it just works, so first you look at the rectangle and then there are elements within it. I like regimented shots; perhaps it’s a rule I should break, but wonky lines upset me.” Take the shot of the elderly couple kissing in the bus shelter. The most important bit of that shot for Peter is that the ‘lost children centre’ display to the left runs parallel to the edge of the frame. Things have to work like that.

“With 6x7 and 6x6 you are more aware of what is happening at the top, bottom, left and right, but less so shooting in 6x9, where you read the image from left to right, so maybe the top and bottom aren’t so crucial. When you’re shooting 6x7 or 6x6 I think you have to be more disciplined. In 6x9 things can happen towards the edge of the frame and you can get away with a lot more, but when it’s penned in more every corner counts. That sounds like a game show for photographers, ‘every corner counts’. All my books at home are in alphabetical order and everything is square and I think this translates to the way I try to compose shots. Top, bottom, left, right, parallels, everything has to work where possible.”

Peter’s next project is a sort of road trip across UK, called Carry on England, which will look at the clich├ęs that may or may not exist. It sounds fun and he is clearly excited by the idea, and why shouldn’t he be? Photography is about enjoying your subject, seeing the world differently and capturing the not-so-obvious. He may not take his camera out of its bag that often, but when he does it is plain to see Peter is excited by the simple things, events and situations that have a universal appeal. This is the key ingredient to any successful story and the draw for people from all walks of life.

By being selective, Peter has succeeded in creating strong images that have elements familiar to everyone. By being unobtrusive he is welcomed into disparate worlds and invited to record those elements in an engaging, humorous and sympathetic way. What more could a street photographer want?


Based in London, Peter Dench works primarily for advertising and editorial clients. In 2010 he came second in the advertising category at the Sony World Photography Awards. His studies of international cultures have been exhibited the world over. Football’s Hidden Story, his project for FIFA documenting 26 stories across 20 countries, received six global accolades, including World in Focus, AOP Open and PDN Photo awards.


Tom Stoddart

Elliott Erwitt

Martin Parr

Cindy Sherman

Jo Spence

Marcus Bleasdale

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Nikon D7000 Review

A version of this review first appeared in Photography Monthly Magazine

As a teenage boy I regularly raided my Dad’s adult magazine collection. You had to stand on a chair and reach right to the back of the wardrobe. My best mate Marc would keep lookout. Leafing through one hairy adventure we stopped at a page that had a gift token cut out. Two weeks later on a rummage in the closet we found a large box. The gift had arrived. To his credit Marc didn’t say a word. Neither did I. We closed the box and went outside to play football. This unwelcome memory is why for two days a similar box has been left ignored under a tossed towel in the corner of the bedroom. It takes a bottle of Burgundy and a shot to confront the parcel. The following morning I wake in a bed of bubble-wrap, instructions and cellophane. A recollection jabs the eyes. I open the wardrobe, pick up the box and tip out the contents. A loaned Nikon D7000 AF-S DX Nikkor with 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR plops onto the bed.

Today it’s my day to have a play. I grip the ribbed girth of the 18-105mm lens and blink into the day with Ron Jeremy prowess. Double-check the kit and there’s no memory card. You can still photograph in Demo mode but I’m not the sort of man that enjoys shooting blanks. I swap for my regular camera and release a rapid rattle. Contact the Nikon PR, they don’t provide memory. I’m going on a Nikon Press Event and was hoping to be up to speed before the day; there are prizes to be won, champagne to be quaffed and dinner at a top London restaurant. Perhaps they’ll serve the soup without a spoon.

I’m not used to being in a room with other photographers. There must be a joke about what you’d call it, an Egoclectic? The rain pours harder. We are to take part in a Photographic Challenge & Treasure-Hunt, four teams, five locations. I cross my fingers for team Kate. I’m in team Nick, Nikon’s heavyweight technical consultant. First we have half an hour to complete a quiz, I scour the room for Judith Kepple. She’s not here. The riddles provide our shoot destinations; a former entry point into the underground whose name sounds something like an old Scottish Hag? Hmmm, we all ponder for a moment, what do you call a Scottish woman, “A Prostitute” I offer finger pointed aloft in triumph. No. Hmmm, Caledonian, something, something “Auld-Wych” Nick’s in the zone and I slowly zone out.

Quiz solved and we’re off, Martin is our black cab driver. Also in the team is Blah, staff writer at Digital Dude Magazine and Wooo! Editor at Push My Digits. Blah seems a bit overwhelmed being in London and fashions a hat out of newspaper. I try to photograph the millinery offering with the 18-105mm. It doesn’t respond well in such cramped proximity. I like to shoot close and wide and swap for a 35mm fixed Nikkor Lens. Better. Light, balanced, nimble in hand and feels serious. Nick tells me the dappled black exterior absorbs most light eliminating reflection. It emits a searchlight to assist focusing in low light and I momentarily startle Wooo! with the exploratory beam. This would have to be turned off to be discreet and manual focus enabled.

We reach our first challenge, to be pictured with a Juggler in Covent Garden. I shoot some frames. My initial perception was that any built in pop-up strobe flash was amateurish but there is a real gloom so I flick it on. It will pop up automatically when needed in Auto mode. It’s very effective, once I get over mistaking the hot shoe accommodation hole for the viewfinder. You can’t use it too wide or there’s falloff from the 16mm coverage. Later I’d discover there’s no PC sync connector but am informed of an optional connector adapter that mounts on the intelligent hot shoe. On challenge two Wooo! takes me aside to tell me Nikon Nicks name is Jeremy. I am grateful. My camera is drenched. Jeremy says it’s not a problem and just to give it a wipe at the end of the days shoot. We continue to snake the capital snapping in tunnels and subways where the camera copes admirably with a quick up pump of the ISO although as is the case most digital cameras, it over exposes slightly for my taste in auto modes.

There is a wealth of menu options on the D7000 that will keep any geek busy customizing shoot preferences. While I do appreciate choice in many situations, as the day advances I find myself turning most of the functions off and distilling the camera to what photography is essentially all about. To make the process from what you see to what you capture as simple as possible. Manually set aperture, ISO and shutter speed, press shutter, job done. When I’ve accepted this I am a happy snapper. Breathe and shoot, breathe and shoot. The sound of the shutter is a welcome rhythm of life. I am complete and fleetingly start to enjoy the pure process of picture making. I try to dismiss the foreboding sense that at any moment without warning a Getty snapper might step in front of the lens.

The teams come together at Smiths of Smithfield in a private room for a slides-how and prize giving. I grab a glass of Heidsieck & Co Monopole Blue Top Brut. Gags drift over, “I’ll have the fisheye,” “We made it in the Nikon Time.” I get a refill. Each teams effort is displayed on a large screen with varying results. The videos are the climax. Rules restricted us to a 30-sec video out of the 20 continual gorgeous minutes available of Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixel) at 24fps. Most efforts overlooked the nifty virtual horizon facility or I’m starting to sway. There is background noise from the built in mic so an external mic is advised. All of the encountered improvements and upgrades on the D90 are mere foot soldiers in the pecking order. The swinging dick of additions for me is dual SD card-slots, (also compatible with SDXC & SDHC). Configure the camera to send RAW files to one and JPEG to the other. Designate each for stills or video or just let one full card flow seamlessly over to the next. General Dual Slots I salute you.

The evening reaches the crucial point I’ve anticipated. If I’m going to kit chat over dinner I want it to be with the sweetest face. While others amble table-wards I vault myself into position next to team Kate. “Hello Kate.” Her name is Lily. Dammit Dench. I recover the situation and listen to the poetic details of the D7000; 16.2MP CMOS sensor, Scotch Egg, a shutter speed of up to 1/8000, Walnut & Blue Cheese Salad, 39-point AF System with 3D tracking, Dill Fishcake, up to 6fps continuous shooting, Malbec 2009, Scene Recognition System, Roast South Devon Rib, 2016 metering sensor, refill, ISO 100-6400 (expandable to 25600), Blueberry Cheesecake, 3.0 Inch 921k dot LCD screen. After dinner a Nikon PR starts to work the table like a blushing bride. I dread the inevitable question. I don’t want to seem ungrateful but I’ve spent the afternoon driven around London in the rain being photographed in various bad band album cover poses. It hasn’t cracked into my all time top 10 days ever. “Did you enjoy yourself?”

On reflection it’s not been a bad day and Nikon an affable host. The Nikon philosophy resonates. It’s not about the amount of Mega pixels but trustworthiness and creativity. They seem to care, more Centre Parcs than Disneyland. I am about to make the real time leap into Videography. Would I buy the D7000 for it’s live view continuous focus high ISO and low noise capabilities, yes I would. Would the 28 minutes of 1080p at 24fps per 4GB memory card edge me away from the D7000’s competitors, yes it would. Would I return to Smiths of Smithfield for the beef, without question. Will the move away from the more traditional Don McCullin Nikon association to Jamie Oliver and the Channel 4 Soap Hollyoaks matter to me, no.

Arriving home I turn out my pockets; menu, bus ticket, pen, pad, gum and Wooden Spoon. Wooden Spoon! Ah yes, the prize giving. We came last in the challenge. It’s signed ‘from Lily.’ I pour a glass, self-toast the achievement and put in on the shelf next to my World Press Award.