4th I receive a message via Facebook asking to deliver a speech at the opening of the Swansea Metropolitan University ‘Free Range’ photography degree show at the Truman Brewery in London. This is pleasing and pour myself a Rioja
12th Russia have just taken a one-nil lead against Poland in the football European Championships. The man sat next to me in The Hillgate Pub, Notting Hill, punches the air in delight; the man is Alexei Obolensky. The name Obolensky is said to derive from the town of Obolensk, the name of a princely Russian family of the Rurik dynasty, one of Europe’s oldest royal houses. The family of Obolensky aristocrats mostly fled Russia in 1917 during the revolution; Alexei is a 21-year old descendant of that family. We met while I was on assignment for the Telegraph magazine shooting a reportage of a group of pupils from Sherborne independent boys boarding school on a visit to the central eastern African country of Rwanda. They were visiting Rwanda to join locals and build a community hall for survivors of the genocide. It was a bonding experience and Alexei and I have remained friends. At the time I was lucky enough to hold a silver British Airways executive club card which allowed business lounge access and access to a plethora of free booze. Arriving from Rwanda into Kenya for a welcome stop over and change of flight, I flew up the stairs into the BA lounge. The young prince had gained access with his fathers gold BA card and was already on the Gin. Back in Notting Hill, I ask Ed Bacon who was also in Rwanda and has joined us for a catch up; “Why The Hillgate?” He explains; his cousin owns it, one of a portfolio of pubs in the area; I get the beers in.
©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images
13th As my profile increases, faces from the past continue to reconnect. Today it’s Gef. Gef was a rather naughty boy I knew from the early 90’s Rave scene in Bournemouth. From his Facebook message, Gef seems to have mellowed. He has found a wife and settled in Morecombe. I click ‘confirm friend.’
17th I hit the editorial jackpot; a 12-day assignment for a German news magazine shooting a pre-Olympic portrait of London. That’s long enough to wear all the clothes in my wardrobe twice. There’s a list of general topics to cover: Anything to do with the rush in London; quiet London; markets in London; posh London; artsy London; strange London; financial London. I decide on the strategy and the strategy is to organize the shoot as one giant pub-crawl and get stuck-in. I drink a London Pride at The Audley in Mayfair and wait with a Magners cider for a horse-drawn hearse at The Boleyn Tavern near Upton Park. I order a bottle of Mexican lager overlooking Saint Paul’s Cathedral at One New Change and a Pale Ale at Dalston Roof Terrace looking out towards Canary Wharf. I drink a Pinot Grigio white wine spritzer at All Bar One Canary Wharf and a glass of champagne outside Corney and Barrow watching pretty office workers playing a lunchtime game of Croquet in Exchange Square. I drink at King’s Cross, St. Pancras, Waterloo, London Bridge and Victoria railway stations. I imbibe at The Dove on Broadway market, The Birdcage at Columbia Road Flower Market and the Howl at the Moon after a visit to Hoxton Street market where I also have a pie. I drink on the South Bank of the River Thames, the north bank of the River Thames and on a boat on the River Thames. I drink a Marks and Spencer Vodka & Tonic in a can at London fields and a bottle of Beck’s sat on a bench watching cheerleaders in Battersea Park. I suck back Sols at The Night Gallery in Redchurch Street and clutch a Rose watching a drag Queen sing Abba songs at Molly Moggs in Soho. The job goes well, the magazine is pleased and I celebrate at the Villiers Terrace, with a Prosecco.
18th I receive a message via Facebook informing me that Tom Hunter would now be opening the Swansea Metropolitan University ‘Free Range’ degree show at the Truman Brewery in London. This is not pleasing and pour myself a Rioja. TOM HUNTER! Who the F*** is Tom Hunter!? Is Tom Hunter contributing editor to Hungry Eye magazine? Is Tom Hunter Co-Creative Director of White Cloth Gallery, Leeds? Is Tom Hunter core group photographer at Reportage by Getty Images? How can Tom Hunter help students more than I? I fist his name on the keyboard into Google; trkmnBUnter. Then I try again with single finger digits. “Oh he’s an ARTIST!” Actually he’s rather good; 1998 John Kobal Photographic Portrait Award winner; 1999 Saatchi Gallery exhibition of the ‘Holly Street’ estate; 2006 solo show at the National Gallery; Recent commissions from The Serpentine Gallery London, Channel 4, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Museum of London and the Royal Shakespeare company.
19th Gef texts to say he would like to visit with his wife and has recently lost a foot.
21st I head down to the Swansea Metropolitan University ‘Free Range’ degree show at the Truman Brewery in East London, the UK’s largest graduate art and design exhibition, and swing by to say hello to Tom Hunter. It’s 17-years since I graduated and watch fondly as the students pin their hopes to the wall. At the City of Westminster College show I cup a hand of gummy bears and cast an eye over Arthur Hyam’s work. His work is on dry mounted glossy paper, darkroom printed. Observing the work is a young man tweaking his outrageously flamboyant mustache. He can’t be old enough to have achieved the right to sport such an outlandish growth. I step outside; there’s a young man wearing a jauntily positioned Trilby hat playing a Rubix Cube. With Shoreditch-chap-rage swelling in my clenched hands I dash for the tube and narrowly miss being rubber stamped by a customised low-slung BMX bike ridden by a sock-less young man wearing paisley shorts, brown brogue shoes and an ostentatious beard.
©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images
22nd “Wow! Make up really works!” may not have been the best phrase to compliment a 16-year old girl on the cusp of the most special evening of her young life. I’ve taken an afternoon out from my London editorial adventure to act as official snapper at my niece Jaye’s graduation prom. As we make our way outside for the group photograph by the light pink Limousine, a brutal wind whips the girls around like a chucked tin of Quality Street. Arriving at the prom it’s a bit Gypsy Wedding; Strap marks climb from strapless dresses; zits are popped and hair is primped; dresses bustle and boys bay at the boobs on display. I get the camera out.
©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images
25th My daughter has a day off school and would like to go on a visit to the Tower of London. I would like to take my daughter on a visit to the Tower of London but in June 1999 I was banned from the Tower for life. I was on assignment for the now defunct style magazine The Face shooting a reportage on The Power Team, a troupe of ministers from Texas who perform feats of strength while preaching about God. After sending a message to the masses in Hackney, East London, they decided on a day off for sightseeing and I was to accompany them. Photographing the Crown Jewels on display at the Tower of London is strictly forbidden. I stepped on to the moving walkway towards the bling with members of the God squad (mainly ex-American footballers and weightlifters resplendent in their matching shiny Power Team tracksuits) and raised the camera to focus; ‘Click’ - a hand weighed down on my shoulder and I was marched down to the bowels of the Tower and unceremoniously ejected out. “You Sir, are not welcome back. EVER!” Now I’m sure, 13-years later, my crime is forgiven but my daughter is rather sensitive when it comes to misdemeanors and I’d rather not risk it so I send the wife.
27th Gef texts to say he received over £2 million for the loss of his foot and that his wife is a man.
5-6th The Stilo or the Sharpie? I’m at Les Recontres d’Arles festival for a book signing. Arles, where the bums drink Rose on the steps to a Koudelka exhibition and flies suckle on the sweet wrists of sweet young young women flashing their white teeth smiles. Sat in the sunshine at my table on the Rue Des Porcelets I inhale the atmosphere and opt for the Sharpie, the David Beckham signature pen of choice, and wait for my adoring fans. There are three. The problem with buying books in Arles is it would be more economical to buy it a return seat on ‘Tryandbear Airlines’ rather than fork out for the overweight luggage fee. Don McCullin drops by for a peek but leaves empty handed. Later at dinner with the Don, I suggest we double up on a photo-tour of England; Dench and Don Uncensored? Surprisingly he doesn’t dismiss it out of hand.
The Don checks out England Uncensored
6th Gef calls at 1am for a catch-up.
7th What is a chap and do I have the potential to be one? These are pondered thoughts on the short number 91 bus ride from Crouch End to Bedford Square in central London, the venue for the 8th Chap Olympiad. In between The Cucumber Sandwich Discus, Umbrella Jousting and Shouting at Foreigners events, I ask Tristan Langlois, Lord Laughingstock, Sir Gerard De Wilts and Mr Wax if I have the potential to be a good chap and am handed a copy of the chap manifesto. While I could cope with being courteous to the ladies, doffing one’s hat should I be wearing one, and never wearing plimsols when not doing sport, I could not; always cultivate interesting facial hair and volley my screwed up rage into the bin.
10th I put a chicken in the oven before I go out so I don’t spend too long in the pub. When I return home I have a burnt chicken.
12th The German news magazine with my pre-Olympic London photo-essay hits stands. Out of the opening eight double-page-spreads, five of them are mine. There are 12 of my photographs used in total. This is clearly too many as three have been credited to the photographer Nick Turpin.
14th Gef leaves three abusive voicemail messages on my cell phone.
18th It’s the night before the UK in print premier of my exhibition England Uncensored at White Cloth Gallery Leeds and I opt for a low-key evening of a pint and a pub quiz. Before the questions are asked I pen all the answers and the answers are all the same; Geoffrey Boycott.
21st I’m giving a photo-walk around East London to a hen party. The hen is Clare who likes graffiti art. I’ve prepared a presentation, plotted the route and sourced a few quirky bars for a rejuvenating glass along the way. Heading for the door the cell phone delivers a text; “Hooray it’s sunny! Just to give u a heads up, Clare's mum said to me that she wasn’t keen on photography!” Essentially then, they have paid for a strange man to accompany them for a walk and to sit next to them in bars. I invite my friend Ben along and ‘unfriend’ Gef on Facebook.
You can buy a copy of England Uncensored here