Tuesday, 10 January 2012

In Conversation With Jocelyn Bain Hogg

Jocelyn Bain Hogg (JBH) is sweating. He reaches for a small bottle of Trumper's extract of lime and depresses a cooling mist. A polka-dot Paul Smith handkerchief is flourished from the pocket of his Adam of London suit to dab the beads from his lofty brow. I sip my can of Heineken. It's touching 28C in Le Couvent des Minimes, where we both have an exhibition as part of the 23rd Visa pour l'Image (VPL) festival of photojournalism held annually in Perpignan, France. I'm representing England; JBH, Wales and Scotland. (He has never felt English, ever, and admits to sniffling with pride watching the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.) Together we are flying the exhibitor’s flag for Britain. Waiting to be interviewed for French TV, pleasantries are exchanged in the way that British men do. Our respective journeys to this privileged position has been very different.

The Family
©Jocelyn Bain Hogg/VII Photo Agency

Solely his mother brought up JBH, an only child, after his adopted father died when he was a baby. The young JBH applied himself early to the theatrical, playing Robin Hood aged seven, and later winning the prestigious House Colours for his portrayal of Phyllis the Maid in the George Bernard Shaw farce, Passion, Poison and Pretrification, performed at the equally prestigious Lancing College (that he describes as a bear-pit). A youth of reciting Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot unravelled before unearthing his fathers old Rolleiflex persuaded JBH to turn his back on successful applications to the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain and the University of Oxford. Like many photographers before him, the Siren sounds of the click of the shutter and turn of the film winder had lured him to a lifetime behind the lens.

Five years his junior, while JBH, aged 18, was having his work published in Harpers and Queen and on the cover of the British Journal of Photography, I was still throwing chewed soggy paper to the ceiling of Mr Speedy's math class. Magnum Photos Agency photographer David Hurn, had already insulted JBH; a right of passage that would take me another 23 years. He advised JBH put his pretty pictures in a box and show them to his girlfriend. Perhaps Hurn played a hand in JBH’s unsuccessful application to Magnum. The criticism seems unabated. In 2010, at an exhibition of JBH’s project, Muse, at Third Floor Gallery in Cardiff, Hurn greeted him with the words, “Love the shirt, hate the show.”

©Jocelyn Bain Hogg/VII Photo Agency

I first became aware of JBH attending my first VPL festival in 2002. I had a screening of my project, Drinking of England. On arrival, the talk of the town was still about the stately Brit who had entertained the crowds the previous year with photographs from his book, The Firm. First published in 2001, the work documented the criminal underworld, from exile in Tenerife to the broad spectrum of activity in the UK. Images of topless girls, gripped guns, grabbed buttocks, knuckle-duster neck chains and 6-inch cigars introduce us to the fierce world of the celebrity thug. The book has since become a cult classic. The question everyone asked was: How could this man, take these types of photographs?

The interim decade have seen our paths cross many times. We have briefly shared a commercial agent, exhibited at the same gallery, reciprocated nods across the dance floor at parties, bowed our heads at the funeral of Princess Diana and traded advice over email. Occasionally, I've been victorious competing on commissions; JBH has crushed my ambition for others. After a decade of friendly competition, a few weeks before the VPL festival we meet for a drink, to declare a truce and say, “Well done us, we are still doing it” and agree to form a coalition. I can't help thinking I've been allocated the Nick Clegg role.

Back in Le Couvent des Minimes, the television crew questions JBH; "Are you a gangster?" No. "Are you an expert on British crime?" No. “Did you constantly find yourself in danger?” No. "How does someone like you get to take these types of photographs?" The questions are understandable and the rumours are delicious. One recounts a man owed money, tired of waiting to be paid, presented the debtor with a copy of The Firm, indicating that he knew the author. The debt was immediately honoured. Another anecdote: A woman at her wits' end after the relentless bullying of her daughter at school asks if JBH’s ‘friends’ would be able to help? The bullying ceased.

I leave the French exchange and stride into JBH's exhibition. The first thing I notice is his contributor photograph, credited to fellow VII Photo Agency snapper, Seamus Murphy. A sartorially crafted JBH sits perched on a bar looking every bit the dandy, a cigarette dangles between the fingers. My contributor photograph is a self-portrait, urgently requested by the Dorset Echo, I had hauled myself out of bed hours after returning from assignment to Kirkuk, Iraq. The result is a baggy eyed, unshaven Dench, with what looks like an enormous Mohican.

The claustrophobic sweaty room suits the content of JBH’s photographs. Big men tilt their big shaven heads for whispered conversations in Knightsbridge bars. Jewels sparkle, caught in the cut-through-the-dark ring-flash. Personalities clash, the clothes are brash, men snort coke through cash. Women touch tongues and tattoos tell tales of gangs. The images are from his new project, The Family; IT IS NOT A FOLLOW UP TO THE FIRM!

The Family
©Jocelyn Bain Hogg/VII Photo Agency

The VPL press office is working us hard. In between my own dense itinerary, I try to catch up with JBH for an interview. I turn up for scheduled talks of his that he hasn't and stand alone as others are rescheduled. Journalists text me to ask if I’ve seen my British chum. We cross paths briefly in Cafe de la Poste, the unofficial festival HQ for a few grabbed words over Pastis. At one point during the week, he kicks me up the backside and I capture video footage of him calling me a w****r. The cracks in the England, Scotland-Wales coalition start to show and the sparring is welcome.

Back in London, battered but not beaten, I recoup, regroup, and head down to the home of photojournalism, the offices of Foto8 near Old Street in London. How lucky am I? The home of photojournalism, just down the road from where I live. It could have been in Nantucket; or worse, Grimsby. I'm meeting JBH at 3pm and have arrived early to look at a PDF of the The Family and chat with Foto8 director, Jon Levy. I ask the question. "How does this man take these types of photographs?" Levy explains: “It's the demeanour of JBH, he's not trying to be someone he isn’t, the bon viveur, pushy-in-a-good-way, Errol Flynn character of our day you see, is the man you get.”

JBH arrives around 4pm after a prolonged meeting with his bank manager and folds himself into a chair. The anthropologist explorer of British society explains the villains of The Family are guys who just know who they are and they don't mind being photographed; the police already know who they are. If The Family is not a follow-up to The Firm, the style certainly is. The continuation of grainy black-and-white pictures delivers the feeling of a sequel. Given the opportunity for a career in movies as a young man, JBH had opted for stills photography; his “Passport to move freely and document the world without the intervention of camera crews, set designers, bulky equipment and, above all, the necessary contrivance of film-making.” With the development of lightweight HD video cameras, would JBH now consider shooting footage? He would, but this would not have been possible shooting The Family, those silent conversations caught by the stills camera, need to remain just that.

The Family
©Jocelyn Bain Hogg/VII Photo Agency

The images in The Family, introduce us to the world of villainy post Joe Pyle Snr. Pyle, from South London, was the head of a crime family who counted the Kray twins among his friends. He died of motor neurone disease in 2007. The work documents the four ‘brothers’ bequeathed the Pyle Snr. crime patch; where these scions of the Pyle family compete with international gangs and comply with others to maintain their heritage. Along with images of paying respect at the cemetery, wakes, communions, and unlicensed boxing matches, we find the protagonists relaxing at home in suburban Surrey: watching Chelsea on TV, fooling about with the kids, playing basketball in the yard. Photography is JBH’s family and books his children. Books matter, they are lasting; his legacy. They make a statement. Two more books are planned for 2012. The joke is that if The Family isn’t published before Christmas, JBH would not be celebrating it; but no one seems to be laughing. I lighten the mood and suggest that Foto8, who will publish the book, release the slogan, “Publishing books, saving lives”. But no one seems to be laughing. Back home, I check my bank balance, Christmas list, and pencil in for all my friends and relatives, 'a copy of Jocelyn Bain Hogg’s The Family'.

Jocelyn Bain Hogg will be exhibiting  
The Family at White Cloth Gallery, Leeds UK, Spring 2012.

Copies of The Family is available to buy from Foto8 publishing including limited editions.

A version of this feature first appeared in issue #2 of Hungry Eye magazine, copies available to buy here.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Dench Diary : October/November 2011

13th Door 4, Circle R, Row 6, Seat 47. It’s not a great seat. Even with a 70-200mm zoom I can only just capture the action. I must get closer. In the absence of any rhythmic gymnastics events, I’m pointing my lens at its slutty cousin: the 59th International Ballroom Dance Championships at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I applied for official accreditation but they restrict the floor perimeter space for official industry snappers only. That’s not where I want to be. Backstage is where I want to be, with the tears, tantrums and tan. Having bought the cheapest ticket to guarantee entrance to the venue, I slip around my neck one of those official-looking security cords that badges hang from and tuck the empty end in my shirt pocket. Heave a tripod onto my shoulders and boldly go through the 'restricted access' door. Arriving backstage is like diving to the bottom of a can of Red Bull: bouncy, fizzing and sparkly. The perfectly-painted ladies stretch and shake; wobble and bend. Fresh-out-of-the-box 'Max Headroom' men Cha-cha-cha with ghost partners. The hallways are an adrenalin-fueled bumper car ride of the world’s best. I get ready to rumba and dodge and weave in-between shooting video.

15th Buoyed by the evening of ballroom dancing, I check what else is happening at the Royal Albert Hall and level my gaze at the National Brass Band Championship final. I give the organizer a call to ask for accreditation. He doesn’t know what accreditation means. I ask if press would be welcome to photograph the competition. "They would not." How about backstage. "Only supervised". How about writing a feature? "Only if I include a quote from him about how brilliant it is." Instead, I decide to take family Dench to have their family photograph taken by photographer and family man, Chris Floyd. Floyd is hosting a pop-up portrait studio at the Multiplied Contemporary Editions Fair in South Kensington. After snapping the three of us together he calls my wife back. “Stand with your legs apart.” She does. “Do a star jump.” She does, then another. I potter uncomfortably in the corner and fidget with my daughter's hair. Later I ask my wife if she will roly-poly for my friend watching on Skype.

Photo: Chris Floyd

18th The New York Times has posted a blog about my work on the English. This is good news, I’ve tried for years for a profile raising post about my work on The New York Times blog. The piece by Jennifer Hamblett reads excellently; there are even four comments, I pour a Pinot and take a look. One recites lyrics from a patriotic English song; one retells the story of an old man trying to nobble a fly; one calls the work ‘Martin Parr lite’ (I’ve heard better); and my favourite one plugs the photographer Justin Sainsbury.

19th I receive an email from the vice president of of a global photographic agency calling me a “Sick bruv.” This is unusual, he usually emails to ask if my family are well and if I would like a spot of lunch. Another email arrives from the Senior Art Director of a global photographic agency, commenting that Hungry Eye magazine is "sick", or "well #Dench". It seems 'Dench' has made it into the Urban Dictionary; another meaning for 'sick' or 'nice'. It was also used by MistaDubstep to describe something huge, amazing, awesome etc.

Person 1. “Oi! Do you like that track Mt Eden?”

The use of 'Dench' in this way has been made popular by Arsenal football player Emmanuel Frimpong. So popular, that Frimpong’s friend, the rapper Lethal Bizzle, has written a freestyle Dench rap and started a Denchwear clothing range. Bizzle claims to have sold over 13,000 T-shirts. I write him an email;

Dear Mr Lethal Bizzle Hello! I’m Peter Dench, contributing editor for Hungry Eye Magazine, and author of the Dench Diary. I saw with interest your new clothing range. Desperate to get my hands on a Dench T-shirt, perhaps we could meet, and I could shoot a video of the occasion. That would be #DENCHHHHHH. Yours Sincerely Peter Dench

20th I’m judging a street photography competition in association with a phone company. I get to keep the phone by submitting a six to 12-image photo-essay. The light is good and I head into London, unaware of the significance of the day. Crossing the ‘Wobbly Bridge' (London Millenium Footbridge) from St. Paul’s Cathedral to Tate Modern, three women stride purposely towards me. They are wearing pink coats and high heels. They remove their coats. They are wearing stockings and suspenders. I take a picture. I’ve stumbled into a PR event for National Stocking Day. Today is also notable for another reason: the killing of Colonel Gaddafi. Now my fine denier dreams will forever be diluted by the dictator. When my wife returns home from work, I reassure her that 'Dappy dead' cannot be what she overheard and the lead singer of the hip hop group N-Dubz, is in fact alive and thriving.

22nd I drop my Helicobacter Pylori stool test off at the clinic and head to Martin Parr’s house. You can read all about my ‘Parr tea’ in issue #3 of Hungry Eye magazine.

24th - 25th The bed springs poke through. In the morning, I ache so much it feels like exercise (or how I think exercise might feel). Getting dressed, my threadbare socks pull apart. The elastic on my pants has gone and bunch to give the look of an extra from Spartacus. My shoes have holes in. Together It’s not a great look. I’m trying to give the appearance of ‘smart’ before attending the Canon Pro Solutions show at the Business Design Centre in Islington. Arriving at Room Two for a seminar there’s a healthy queue. I’m delighted, the queue is for my seminar. I’m giving four over the two days: Dench Home (about my work on the English) and Dench Away (about my work abroad). The queue for the remaining seminars is not so tumescent.

Leaving CPS, I eat a sandwich on the number 73 bus and head over to neon-lit Soho and locate the House of Saint Barnabas for the opening of the exhibition, Our Lives. Commissioned by Save the Children, It brings a new perspective to the lives of British children living in poverty, told through photographs, film and interviews. The exhibiting photographers are Simon Roberts, Liz Hingley, Laura Pannack, Abbie Trayler-Smith and Carol Storey. It draws quite a crowd. I spot British newsreader and television presenter Natasha Kaplinsky, even better, there’s Zed Nelson. The speaker says child poverty in the UK is likely to rise by 800,000. (Probably the children of editorial photographers.)

27th I’ve not heard from Mr Lethal Bizzle, so I try the Tweeter approach; “Yo Bizzle! Can I come and shoot a short video plug for Denchwear to post @hungryeyemag TV?”

28th-30th Midna from The Legend of Zelda Twighlight Princess is reading The Sun newspaper. Manga assassin, Creed Diskenth sips a latte. Three Gothic Lolitas titter past. I’m at the The Euro Cosplay Championships; part of the London Comic Con MCM Expo at the Excel Centre in London’s Docklands. It doesn’t officially start for another three hours yet already there are so many pimples here, if they all burst at once there would be a puss-flood. Perversely, Excel is also hosting Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model. Each group of attendees look horrified at the other as they make there way to their respective exhibitions. I queue for Top Model accreditation. Inside I meet Laureanne from Essex, promoting fake tan and hair extensions at the Lauren’s Way exhibit. Laureanne has had a spray tan today. I also meet Anna Watts; a 24-year old model and businesswoman from London. She says that “money equals stability” and is quite fond of making big bucks. Anna is extremely competitive and likes to “eliminate rubbish people” around her. She likes to shock people who think on first impressions that she’s an airhead. Anna shows me her bikini tan line. I am shocked and snap a picture.

Over at Cosplay, I ask Airi from Queen’s Blade: “What is Cosplay?” - and The Riddler; Dr. Mrs. The Monarch; Veronica Vera from Shadow Hearts II, Fox McCloud; Dr Mechanic; Super Mario; The Amazing Spider-Man; and even Cookie Monster. My understanding is Cosplay stands for costume role play; where adults lacking in confidence and resenting the humdrum of their daily lives, can dress up as an animes, comic or film characters they love, and run around acting like the character; having fun and making friends. I ponder the answer on my way to find out if Laureanne has had a spray tan today.

31st My wife is training for a 10K run and asks me to time her on her evening sojourn. “How long did I take?” “Two cans of Guinness and a packet of novelty crisps.” I think I can improve on that next time.

1st November “Hello Brighton! You’re looking rather lovely this evening, care to join me for a drink?" "Why thank you.” Tonight I’m giving a talk as part of the Mini-Clik programme in association with this magazine. The bar is suitably bulging and the talk goes well. The only problem giving a talk in a bar: too much talking, not enough bar. Jumping on the 22.19 back to London I feel a few drinks short. I sit and wait for the jolly jangle of the drinks trolley... and wait. . . and arrive.

3rd One Hundred and Forty Characters by Chris Floyd is launching the refurbished HOST Gallery. I head over to investigate. It’s fun to see familiar profile thumbnails in real life. Characters I’ve presumed to know contradict there online persone: @HarpreetKhara is much taller; @clickclickjim much shorter; @_juliananderson much quieter; @DeanoBeano1 more tactile; and @chrisfloyduk, more international.

9th I’ve a portrait commission for a German news magazine at the University of Cambridge of Christopher Clark, Professor in Modern European History at St. Catharines College. I’ve also been asked to shoot video for the iPad edition. In the study, with the Professor and the candlestick, I drift in and out of the two-hour 'Kopf um Kopf' and watch the sun plummet behind the 15th century college walls, peruse Berkely’s complete works and try not to approach the tray of port.

10th Editing the German interview footage is not easy. The picture editor helps with over-the-phone instruction; “Cut after 'Hitler im Bunker mit der Pistole'.” Professor Clark could be describing a dog's ear for all I know, but I do my best and ping it over for approval before busing towards the World Press Photo 2011 exhibition private view at the Royal Festival Hall. I tweet my plan. “Can’t be bothered,” replies Mr Dulwich; ditto, Mr Highgate. Perhaps it’s more from habit that I attend; an imbedded nostalgia from when I stood there in awe a decade ago, pointing at the industry greats I was too nervous to approach; that, and the free bar. In-between slurps of red and slugs or Moretti, I listen to a presentation by the winner of the WPP of the year 2010, Jodi Bieber, and chat with the sprightly Leo Maguire, who talks brightly about his forthcoming feature-length film documentary on bare-knuckle fighters in Britain’s traveler community. A picture may speak a thousand words, but sometimes it’s nice to hear them. WPP Managing Director, Michiel Munneke presents me with a copy of the first edition of Next #01; a showcase of the work of participants of the annual Joop Swart Masterclass. I ask Maguire to sign his photo-essay on the practice of public sex known as dogging and fill my glass in anticipation of the next 1,000 words.

The Dench Diary goes Ballroom Dancing from Peter Dench on Vimeo.

A version of this feature first appeared in issue #3 of  Hungry Eye magazine, home of the Dench Diary to buy your copy click here.
Click here to order your copy my book; England Uncensored - A laugh out loud romp through this often badly behaved nation.