Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Dench Diary - November 2010

The Dench Diary:
November 2010
1st Frank Sinatra once quipped, “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.” I’ve never wanted Frank to feel sorry for me. The longest I’ve been without a drink in adult life is five days. I was on a North Sea Fishing Trawler shooting on assignment for GQ Magazine. You slept below the water line next to the engine room. It smelt of fishy men. I felt drunk and threw up often. I vowed to continue sobriety on dry land. 40 minutes from docking after one hot shower and one bottle of Veuve Cliquot the sentiment was never referred to again. I think it’s time to give being dry another try. I might be brilliant. It would be a shame not to find out. I put my new life plan into action, juice a Kilo of carrots and meet friend and agent Abby Johnston. She’s agreed to review my folio and wave the fee she can deservedly charge. It’s insightful and confirms what I suspect. Commercial clients want to see a high turnover of fresh new work. My portfolio is constructed from a decade of editorial hot shots. It doesn’t make the transition. I need the folio to secure one more well paid job to finance a complete make over.
4th I’ve been called in to chat with the creative team at a direct and digital marketing agency. They have a credit card client and usually source images from Royalty Free stock. Their search has revealed large gaps; the images are often too globally generic. It’s encouraging to hear RF stock hasn’t conquered every requirement. Even more encouraging to hear they want the work to have a strong sense of British. I was once described as the affordable Martin Parr (and Parr’s drunken brother). I pull out a decade of work on British-ness. They’re concerned. The work features ‘real people.’ Would I be able to replicate that using actors? I lucidly explain this would be easy. You don’t have to wait for hours for that decisive moment but can apply what you know happens eventually and get paid people to do it quicker.

5th Now I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. Who put so many hours in the day and what are you supposed to do with them? The past four days have been a lifetime. Turns out I’m not brilliant. I bore myself. A writer explained to me with conviction you can only be truly creative three to four hours a day. The rest is mental tinkering; dealing with emails, phone calls, vacuuming, watching Loose Women. I usually sit down at my desk around 8am so by noon I’m spent. Today the NUJ are on strike. In a mark of solidarity I down pens and lens and head over to my local for a time consuming bender.

7th I read on Facebook respected portrait photographer Abbie Trayler-Smith has become a mum. Might free up some commissions. I see Harry Borden and Laura Pannack already ‘like’ this status. Congrats AT-S. I check Zen Nelson’s status to see if he’s due for an Op or recovering from flu. He seems fine.

8th Regular dd readers will know I’ve been absorbed in a project with a South Asia flavour documenting 2nd generation migrant girls living in Southall. On the 5th of November I remember attending Diwali celebrations at a Sikh household. On that fiery night one of my migrant girls invited me along to the filming of a music video for Bhangra sensation MC Special. I meet director Blaise at the Blue Green Restaurant in Northolt where the shoot will take place. When I arrive MC Special hasn’t so I peruse the impressive cocktail menu and decide on a White Russian. The rumble of an amber Lamborghini deposits the star to the bar. “Hello I’m Special.” Of course you are darling. Blaise asks if I can be in a scene as Paparazzi. He then asks if I can play the Pap in other scenes. I must be good, actor, writer, photographer, is there no limit. Then it dawns this is the real reason I’ve been invited. “Hello I’m Peter, rapper Special’s special Papper.”

11th Tonight’s the World Press Photo 2010 London launch at the Royal Festival Hall. It’s lit like date night by the pool. I survey the scene, a giddy Tom Daley. The swinging dicks are out and the bar is swell. I dive in with precision. Moretti, Gary Cochran (Art Dir Telegraph Magazine), Moretti, Aidan Sullivan (Vice President Getty), red wine, Jon Jones (Pic Ed Sunday Times Mag), red wine, portraits finest Harry Borden, air kiss kiss Laura Pannack and Moretti with the fully loaded Irina Kalashnikova. I come up for air and check the clock. Half an hour late for drinks Part Deux. I collect thriller writer Tom Knox and TV Producer Ollie McMullen from Gordon’s Wine Bar (not decorated since 1890) and move on to Soho House. Ollie did PE at school with Coldplay’s Chris Martin. Ollie and I travelled the world together. We worked on a project for footballs governing body FIFA documenting 26 stories in 20 countries. Football’s Hidden Story (FHS) was a series of emotive human-interest features showing the positive impact that football has had at grass root level on individuals and communities across the planet. The Italian team of Schizophrenics a personal highlight. During one extraordinary period of play the ball sat idle while one goalkeeper took to all fours and prowled around the penalty box. Other players tackled their myriad personalities. Ollie whispers the possibility of another intercontinental sojourn. It could be a career saver. I don’t remember getting home.

16th On this day in history, well last year, I was landing in Iraq to shoot a reportage on mine clearance in the volatile northern district of Kirkuk. Today I am in the local library flicking through the paper half-heartedly looking for a job. I would rather be in Iraq than looking for a job in the local library. I didn’t even need to be here. I could have looked for a job on the Internet at home but fancied a stroll. The highlight of my day is a stroll to the local library to look for a job I don’t want to do. I think about what the Iraqi special-forces bodyguards who escorted us might be up to. The paper announces today is also significant for another reason, more significant than my mums 60th Birthday. It’s the grand opening of Crouch End’s first JD Wetherspoon pub. Its evil sibling ‘CASH MY GOLD’ arrived last month and thrives. The local de-gentrification mirrors my career. I look through the window at the menu, Curry and a Pint £5.59. I finger my ring and stride in. It’s been 32 days since my last direct photographic commission. This is turning into the drink diary.

17th Thanks to the University of Derby I can confidently illustrate the development of prison photography within a Foucault framework, grab Gombrich’s hand and skip through the problem of meaning and bond with Barthes over the rhetoric of the image. Can I deliver a business plan or file a tax return? No I cannot. I’ve had an accountant for ten years. They charge around a £1000. This year it’s an expense too taxing and I’m online alone and it’s not going well.

18th I’m in a meeting at Channel 4. They want to turn this column into a series. There’s a hamster on the desk and Christopher Walken is dancing outside. Lazytown’s Robbie Rotten who is to play the lead is washing cups. The alarm stops the nonsense. Two hours later I’m in a meeting at Channel 4 showing my portfolio. I used to freelance for the Discovery Channel shooting on set for £500 a day and drinking tea with Tommy Walsh. My DC contact moved on and I got lost in transition. It was a welcome wage and I’m hoping C4 might fill the hole. They show me what’s required. A super slick flick book of campaigns by La Chapelle and von Unworth startle the retina. My dream of meeting up on set with the girls of Hollyoaks After Dark receding with each flap. The omens for work aren’t good but we have a mutual friend and float the idea for a Christmas bevy.

19th Attend a talk by the understated and often underrated George Georgiou (check out Fault Lines: Turkey from East to West). We shared the ITV breakfast show sofa in 2003 talking about our then projects, palettes sticky and stomachs bouncing from the previous evenings awards show imbibing. Today it’s a pleasure to be in the audience. He talks in a matter of fact manner about his need to spend 5 years on a project. Of moving to the territory he wants to document to get a better understanding and fending off the threat of financial ruin. It’s great Photojournalism. Afterwards, I sit down for the beginning of a talk in association with the Royal Privilege Society; ‘handing out bursaries to the double-barrelled since 1853’ and enjoy a jolly introduction by it’s speaker.

24th The competition season is under way and I start to upload my Sony World Photography Awards entries. I can’t defend my second place in Advertising. I haven’t completed an Advertising job in 2010. Instead opt for Portraits, Campaign and Contemporary Issues. It’s not looking good so decide on a trip out. I’m after an experience embracing naked ladies, possibly ginger, mature breasts, underwear, maybe a wounded deer. Clear you filthy minds. It’s time for the annual romp down to the Taylor Wessing Portrait Exhibition at the NPG.

25th Plan to attend daughters’ school Advent fair. I’m thinking a crispy cake, mulled wine, scratched Dylan CD and a few 50p novels. £5 top night. Arriving it’s like John Lewis on location. This is competitive parenting at its fiercest. Kids have been drafted in as Mini Boden mannequins. Local business Tim Spiers Photography is selling hard, well his assistant on the stand is. Tim is busy elsewhere. I flick through the price list; Event photography £100 an hour, Corporate portrait files £50 each. There’s a flyer for ‘Cherub of the Year Competition’ with a ‘life changing’ £10,000 up for grabs. I scan the room for unattended babies. Nothing. Push through the crowd and present myself at the bar. I can afford two glasses.

30th The snow falls and the month closes with a diary first, no new paid Photographic commission. Despite this I decide to Photolease a Canon MKII Body and start my convergence adventure. £99.56 down payment, £49.56 monthly payments for three years. No penalties if you pay it back early. It could happen although I expect by the time I do pay it off they’ll be another upgrade. Hover cameras? It’s not looking like a very Merry Christmas at Casa Dench but I wish you all a terrific one. I hope you feel a bit better about your lives by reading about mine and return for more adventures of a sometimes working-pro in the New Year. The next installment is already shaping up to be a cracker. Yesterday I received a phone call. Words more joyful than “it’s a healthy baby girl” were shouted in my ear; “ARE YOUR JABS UP TO DATE?”

Next installment, the dench diary takes to the skies!
First published in the January issue of Professional Photographer Magazine, back issue are available on their website

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Dench Diary - October 2010

The Dench Diary:
October 2010

Today I’m officially old. It’s not my birthday. Worse. I find myself using the safety rail to get out of the bath. I worry about slippery floors and make a noise when I sit down. I raise a hand mirror to the back of my pate. No man should ever do this. Someone is definitely stealing my hair. It’s the first Monday of a new month. Bedroom, get dressed, Zantac, soluble Solpadeine Plus and draw back the curtains; the room gets darker. Check the weather on the BBC, heavy rain for the next three days. Check Google Analytics – traffic to my website is down 18.27%. Check the diary for the month, oh dear. Here we go again. Check through my monocular for activity in my local. Nothing, but it is only 8.09am. This is going to be a long day. Flick through a backlog of weekend papers for inspiration. A feature in The Guardian tweaks my interest. Blackpool has applyied for UNESCO world heritage site status. If I didn’t have a family, or if they were alcoholics, I’d live in Blackpool. Well, for a year at least. It has everything I like to photograph in one place and often go there on assignment. I write a proposal to the heritage manager outlining an idea I have for a project that would involve the reputable photography degree course at Blackpool & The Fylde College. It’s a long shot but if you toss enough rocks in the pond, one day a mountain will break the surface. Won’t it?

5th Jonathan Worth calls. He’s a lecturer at Coventry University. As soon as I see the name flashing on the mobile I feel nauseous. I know what he wants. Jonathan (@jDubbyah for Twitter fans) is a good friend. We graduated together from the University of Derby. Jonathan and I were two of the few who didn’t spend the course photographing ourselves or our friends naked. He asks the question. The answer is no. I was a promising opening batsman in my teens but had to give it up. I could never quite get over the nerves of striding out to the crease in front of a crowd, the real chance of unblinking failure (with a camera you still have the thrill of being out in the middle of an event and you can fail later). I have the same sense of foreboding when asked to give a lecture. This has to be overcome. A nice little income can be earned by photographers who aren’t photographing, teaching students who probably won’t. I start scripting a talk.

6th Attend the book launch and exhibition of Infidel by Tim Hetherington at HOST Gallery in London. It’s lightly attended for a man of his stature. Events like this used to be crammed with picture editors. I don’t recognise any. I clap eyes on the Cellophane-wrapped book. I’m not paying £25 for that! Free beer later and I’m in the queue to get it signed. Ask Tim to sign it ‘To Peter without whom none of this was possible.’ He doesn’t. Once the book is in hand something peculiar happens. With Stuart Smith involved in the design it had to be special. It’s the feel and size of a Bible and becomes an object of absolute fascination. I take it on a tour of London transport. By the time I arrive at my local I’m frothing about its brilliance and thrusting it in faces like some deranged missionary. People slowly edge away.

7th I’m working on a project co-financed by [cultural organisation] Limonkraft and the European Commission’s Daphne programme. It’s been exactly a month since I was asked to contribute a photo-essay documenting second-generation migrant girls in the context of education. The deadline is December 1. I haven’t shot a frame. I’ve decided to concentrate on the South Asian community in Southall, sometimes known as Little Punjab. Around 55% of Southall’s population of 70,000 is Indian/Pakistani, with less than 10% being White British. It’s a good peg for a story and also home to one of my favourite pubs. The Glassy Junction was the first in the UK to accept rupees. It used to have exotic dancers on a Thursday. Pupils at Villiers High School in Southall represent more than 45 nationalities and languages, embracing 25 ethnic types. There’s also a college that many of the pupils progress to. Today I meet at the college at 10am, tomorrow the school. It’s critical the meetings have a positive outcome and one of them grants me licence to shoot. At 10.15am, after a two-hour nightmare commute, I call the college PR. She’s forgotten all about our appointment. She says I’ll need a Criminal Records Bureau check. I call the CRB and am told a registered institution has to apply on my behalf and the process takes 10 days. I deliver the documents and £36 fee to the college, who say it will take up to five months. In 12 years I’ve never had a CRB request before.

8th It’s 11am and I’m in a meeting with the head of Villiers School. She is enthusiastic about the migrant project. Relieved, I sit back and tuck in to a custard slice. “Oh and I have to ask, are you CRB checked?” I cough a flock of custard flecks. “No, is this a problem?” “Not really, you’ll just have to be supervised when with the pupils.” Access is everything and I’m in.

12th Thank you photography, without you I’d never have got to watch the Guru Nanak Sikh Faith School production of Macbeth as part of the Shakespeare Schools Festival 10th anniversary. Credit to the young girl who delivered without fault the words of King Duncan through a heavy lisp. I was there for act one, scene one, of my own production of Second-Generation Migrant Girls, in which three of my protagonists were performing.

14th This evening I meet Preet, co-founder of ‘Eat Natural’ food products & journalist Sally Williams. We went on commission to South Africa for a feature for the Telegraph Magazine on fair trade Macadamia Nuts. We meet at Shaka Zulu in Camden, an appalling kitsch bar and restaurant guarded by 15ft statues of African warriors with more personality than the staff. Sally is fresh of the plane from Uganda, the charities own snapper took the pics and also shot video. Another startling reminder I need to make the move into moving media fast.

15th I wake with the sense I’ve done something wrong; a job for the Scottish Sunday Herald throbs into view. I’m to shoot the notorious Walworth Road [in South London], as a photographic community service; £180 all in minus 25%, as it came through an agent. My wife reminds me it would take a week working in the canteen of Capital Radio to earn this. It doesn’t help. My daughter tries to rouse me with a rendition of Merrily We Roll Along on the recorder. It doesn’t help. The shoot is plodding and pedestrian. In the evening I head off to a Navratri Garba Festival to meet two of the migrant girls. It’s an hour-and-a-half journey. Leaving in haste, I ignore one of my sacred shoot rules, always dress smart. Good trousers open doors. I was on assignment in Monaco for the Sunday Times Magazine with two days to woo the world of wealth. Armed with press pass and linen slacks I breezed on to a yacht party where current ruler Prince Albert II was in attendance and got to say “CHEERS” with Ted Danson. An invite to an exclusive White Theme party followed. Bejewelled models in swimsuits ushered me in. Hot women in PVC nurses’ outfits raised my temperature. That was a good day and they were good trousers. Back at the dance I am the only white man in a hall of thousands, standing in threadbare socks, faded jeans and T-shirt staring at a rotating whirl of impeccably dressed sirens, looking for two 15-year-old girls. I abandon the hall and start asking giggling groups what school they go to. This is not a good strategy. Some boys overhear and put me out of my misery, they’re not coming. This has been a disastrous day and definitely the wrong trousers.

19th I’m back at Villiers photographing 15-year-old girls in lessons and at lunch. I am 23 years older – 20 years older than 18-year-olds. When I was 16, 18-year-old girls seemed 10 years older. I ask the girls how old they think I am: “43?” Purchase a copy of the Southall Gazette with the headline story: ‘School worker is accused of having unlawful relationships with nine under-age girls.’ I fold it away and call the heads PA to confirm shooting a PE lesson, netball and trampoline club.

20th Evening drinks with the charismatic Tom Knox (when he’s writing novels) or Sean Thomas (when he’s being a journalist). The latter once made the front page of The People for his involvement in a posh sex scandal. Thomas Knox and I have worked on many features, including trips to a Spanking Festival and Europe’s Largest Brothel (12 floors of whores, the busiest day is Christmas Day; insert gag here). He’s just back from a remarkable two-month trip to Peru. I tried to cajole the commissioning magazine to send me with him. Finances dictated a local snapper. A trip to Easter Island beckons. He suggests I inform the magazine I’d pay for my own flights or take a half day-rate.

25th The Photographers’ Gallery in London is closed until autumn 2011. Tonight it is having the first of its off-site socials, a screening and talk on street photography. The bar is crammed with beautiful, slightly sweaty enthusiasts. I talk with a smouldering Oxford grad working as a BBC journalist who wants to be a photographer, and a Cambridge grad who’s just bicycled around the world, is into watercolours and poetry, and wants to be a photographer. A lawyer who sounds like an Oxford grad with an interest in photography explains that we can photograph children and the police on the street at any time of day or night. It’s been an education.

27th I’m sitting on a high stool. The left side of my body has gone numb. The lights are bright. I think I’m about to have a stroke. My drink is out of reach. There’s an audience. All of this is being streamed live on the internet. Welcome to Canon Pro Photo Solutions 2010 at the Business Design Centre in Islington. Last night I was at the Nikon D7000 event, but that’s another column; just to say I woke this morning with a signed wooden spoon in my pocket. Back on the stool I opt for the dehydration = numbness scenario and stoically continue with the interview. My mum might be watching. Afterwards I feel better. Must’ve been nerves but am glad I did it. Head off to read the Mirror and not think about cameras. So much kit-chat, I’ve been living in a Clive Booth column.

28th Had a request from a German magazine for shots to illustrate a feature including a Bearskin Hat, Queues for Red Buses, Ladies Having Tea, A Gentleman’s Club and A Red Telephone Box with cards advertising adult services. Think they’ve watched too many Ealing Comedies and head out to deliver. Find a phone box splattered with ads but the sun is in the wrong place. Stuff the ads in my bag and try to find another box to put them in. It’s not photojournalism at its purest but I haven’t got much time. There was no need, find a perfectly sunned advertised box round the corner. In the evening I arrive for dinner at the home of one of the girls from my ‘migrant’ project. The family are Pakistani Muslims and I pick up a box of vegetarian sweets on the way. The evening is very comfortable and welcoming as I go about snapping their home life. During dinner I ask questions and reach into my bag for notepaper. ‘BIG TIT LADY NEEDS A SPANK’; I’m sure you do, my soaped-up lovely, but now is not the time. I fold the phone box ad and stuff it in my pocket. I think it goes unnoticed.

29th Today I take the day off and lie in bed. This morning after a swim I fell on a wet floor and hurt my back.

Taken from the December 2010 issue of Professional Photographer Magazine, back issues are available on their website