Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Dench Diary : March 2012

23rd February. I have warm fistfuls of Parma ham presented to me by a Harrods catering team. I would like to eat the Parma ham, but am talking to Roksana who is an ambassador; an ambassador of what I have no idea. The striking six-footer is also a banker. I mention I am a photographer. She is also a photographer: a photographer who has an exhibition at a millionaires mansion. “I decorated the photographs with diamonds,” she remarks casually. Roksana hands me her card. It has no diamonds. She moves on and I stuff the ham into my cheeks before being introduced to Juliette. Juliette is an ambassador; an ambassador of what I have no idea. Ambassador of tight skinny jeans perhaps? I’m attending a drinks reception at the furniture and home accessories shop Nuttall, in South Kensington, London. Nuttall  is the vision of sisters Gytha and Amber. Inspired by the best of European craftsmanship with a strong English aesthetic the stock is exquisitely made to last generations. The cashmere draped from the wall appears as God's napkin for my hammy hands. Through the imbibing fug of Kia Royals, I try to figure out what the reception is for. I conclude the event is for people who have purchased, or want to purchase, a villa in an exclusive new development in Thailand. I suggest to Preet, who has invited me along and procured villa number two, that we abscond to the marvelously eccentric Janet’s Bar around the corner for some free popcorn, cheese, crackers and peanut butter sandwiches. Preet concurs.

©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images

26th A woman is shrieking, frenziedly shaking her head and jabbing a finger at my camera. The problem with photographing at a The National Wedding Show at London’s Olympia is the 'pre-brides' don’t want to be pictured in their frocks. The only decision I was allowed to make for my own wedding was what pants and socks to wear. Uninhibited by impending nuptials, I weave among the stalls planning my man wedding. I would definitely hire Faces of Disco. Famous for being live finalists on Britain’s Got Talent, they perform 20 minutes of non-stop, high-energy dancing, wearing the masks of your family and friends. I chuckle at the imagined high-octane body pumps of Great Grandma Dench. Of the 250-plus stalls, around 10% are photographers; and that’s not including the novelty photo booths. I wink towards Oli Green photography, curtsey at Petticoat Pictures, tiptoe past Balance Photography and chat with the officious Mike Garrard Photography. Without exception, all of the photographic businesses I ask, report business is brisk. That’s wedding photographers for you. I take my fixed grin to the Tobago stand and lubricate it with some complimentary rum.

©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images

"What a pile of crap! Seriously, this whole series sucks; and this photo in particulair is nothing but creepy. This appears to be some kind of racist skinhead... nice," says Bill. “This sucks!”says Boss. “I have studied photography all of my life. This collection of work is mediocre at best,”says Brad. And that’s just the 'B’s. The American news channel CNN has posted a piece about my book, England Uncensored. There are more than 35 comments of a similarly vitriolic nature. One of the pictures is of a long blond-haired dancer in a union flag bra and skirt. Spurt Reyonolds (sic) is upbeat: “Look at the fun bags on that hose hound!!!” My favourite comment is from Fantini: ““Umm...is that the eiffel tower in the background of picture number 9? When did they move it to England?!?!?! Horrible...” I change the channel. BBC picture editor Phil Coomes has posted a piece about my book, England Uncensored. There are 12 comments of a more considered nature: “Timely article for me, as this weekend I’m helping my son with his GCSE Art Photography homework. Photography is as valid as any art form as any nowadays. Art in general is too easily derided, thanks largely to the media coverage around Turner Prize time. It's good for young people to see successful artists; they give those with an interest in art something to aspire to," says Freddie Roach Ate My Hamster. Checking how beneficial these posts are I log on to Google Analytics. There are around 2,000 extra daily visits than usual to my main website, 900 to the blog and $800 has been added to the book funding page.

March 1st

There has been a sick and terrible murder; the genitalia from a black youth has been sliced off and stuffed into his mouth. The atmosphere in the police briefing room is serious and tense. “Oooh is that Coronation Street’s Karen McDonald (Suranne Jones) sat next to Michelle (Lesley Sharp) from 1986 film comedy classic, Rita Sue and Bob Too?” I ask Natasha the PR. I’m on the set of filming for ITV detective drama Scott and Bailey (Sharp and Jones respectively) shooting a reportage for the Telegraph magazine. I’m very excited. The reason I’m excited is not because of the two respected actors leafing through CCTV stills of the murder suspect. I'm excited because I heard that actor Sean Maguire may also be here. I first observed Maguire’s work playing the diminutive Terence 'Tegs' Ratcliffe in children’s television drama Grange Hill. I lost track of his career after Today’s The Day: his eighth and last single of his music career. The change of style in Maguire’s music to almost Britpop was not successful. As I gaze across the cast photograph of the now not-so-diminuative Tegs, she fills me in. Maguire, who plays traffic cop Sean McCartney, (an old flame of DC Rachel Bailey), moved to Los Angeles with his girlfriend in 2001 and is currently financing his own television pilot.

©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images


5th The left hand drive Winnebago careers through Camden. The four models/actors dressed as FBI security men sat opposite steady themselves. My colleague Ben Turner flings out drinks and sandwiches. We are on our way to meet an acclaimed artist for a portrait shoot on the streets of London. The shoot's budget was only signed off late the day before, and maximum effort was put in to get the crew together. At 8 o' clock this morning I received an email from the artist to be photographed, which read along the lines of: "I’m not going outside, it’s too cold, I feel under the weather, I am not flexible on this." A few emailed images of the cosy Winnebago interior assuaged concerns. I sit and sweat. The artist is 15 minutes late at our arranged meeting point. We haul them into the Winnebago and drive to our shoot locations: Westminster Bridge, Trafalgar Square and The Sussex pub in Covent Garden. After a successful shoot we give the artist a lift to their next meeting. I notice they are wearing thermals. "Can you turn the heating down? It's very hot in here."

31st In November 2011 I completed an 11-day editorial assignment. I have not been paid. I was hoping to be paid before Christmas; then before the January tax deadline; then in time for Valentines Day and my wife's birthday; then in time for the school half term holiday. Today I receive an email from their accounts department: “I just got your invoice from the picture desk. I saw that it’s dated November the 30th and I try to accelerate the process. The good news is that it has now reached it’s last station. :-)” There’s a smiley face. They have typed a smiley face. I read on. There’s another :-) I don’t want a smiley face. I make an angry face; angry that I had to cancel a planned trip with my daughter to the zoo; angry that I had to ask my mother-in-law for a loan; angry that I couldn’t visit a sick relative; angry at having to shop at Lidl supermarket. I type my reply: “Thank you for updating me on the progress of my invoice. I look forward to receiving the payment. :-)”

©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images

24th - 28th Six men are bathing each other in the Adriatic Sea off the Istrian coast. One is wearing a pair of pink lace women’s panties; another a luminous green mankini. They are not recording their day for Facebook or Twitter. I ask if I can take their picture. I’m told that I cannot. They are simply six men who want to privately bathe each other. A man dressed as a bee jumps of a high diving board. Another in a florescent orange tutu balances precariously on a balcony. Boys from Bangor build a human pyramid: one has a dustpan brush padlocked to his wrist and a penis penned in red permanent marker on his back. Women dressed as Ronald McDonald remove their tops and wave them above their jiggling breasts.

I’m on assignment in the Balkans, photographing British university students on a sports tour to the region. After a typical splash by the Daily Mail newspaper on the 2011 invasion of British students of Salou in Spain, I’m being treated, at best with disdain. The hotel where I hoped to stay has been exclusively booked for the tour and is located far away from the main town and it’s blissfully unaware inhabitants.

I stake out the area. Students wounded from the night before, unwilling or unable to pay for medical treatment, pick at their injuries; moronic men with patches shaved from their heads auto-drink watching rugby being played on the beach. Teenage girls with love bites to match their patchy legs slap their feet, sloshing beer between their toes. There's no dignity to their drinking; no spark or respect for its taste. Speed of consumption takes priority, and the beer bong is imaginatively deployed.

Slowly access is leveraged; the tour organiser allows a 30-minute window in which to photograph at the hotel swimming pool. The boys from Bangor take me on to their balcony for a bender. Pink Eye presses a pint of wine into my hand and suggests that I “live a little”.

©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images

At Trieste airport in Italy, while awaiting my return flight home, I start to live a little and tuck into some Prosecco. With Mr Fingers' Can You Feel It? prodding in my iPodded ears and the Prosecco bubbles popping life to my insides, I think about my equivalent teenage tour in 1989. Aged 17, I left UK shores for the second time; and for the second time the destination was Magaluf, Majorca. Boys from Bury staying at the hotel would defecate into carrier bags and sling them from their balcony onto unsuspecting passersby. My roommate Jason woke one morning, covered in blood and bruises, without any recollection of how he got them. Three days later, as he walked past deeply-excavated roadworks, he remembered. It seems that not much has changed. Returning to the UK from Magaluf, I wrote love letters to Welsh Gail, who I had met at Benny Hill’s bar. Perhaps the love of letters has changed.


31st Tony, the proprietor of the Astoria Hotel hands me my keys. He tells me the front door is easier to open after a skinful of beer. It’s that kind of town. Having not had enough of drunken Brits abroad, I have located to Blackpool for a weekend recreational shoot. Blackpool: where the women are too fat to peel the price sticker from their cheap shoes; where the fake tan is so dense, there’s the danger of being arrested for blacking-up; where the opportunity for fresh air is nipping out for a fag and where a man playing with his massive organ can rouse you onto the dance floor of the Tower Ballroom on a Sunday morning. Blackpool: it’s my kind of town and I wish you were here.

A version of this feature first appeared in issue #6 of Hungry Eye magazine available to purchase here

Signed copies of my first book England Uncensored can be purchased here

A selection of print from England Uncensored will be on display at White Cloth Gallery Leeds, UK from 19th July - 17th September as part of their Best of British programme