Friday, 22 November 2013

Dench Diary : December 2012

September 2012

14th “You look smart for a photographer.” Why thank you deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. I’m shooting a reportage on the deputy PM for the FT Weekend magazine; it’s not going well. Clegg has sat on a train, stood on a stage, and now I have 10 minutes with him stood idle in a garden. For the occasion he’s chosen a suit with more creases in than an albino elephants knee and has the pallor to match.

16th For the London Festival of Photography (LFP) fundraising auction I donated a book, a print, and a portrait session; the lots raised over £700. The LFP has since gone bankrupt and I’ve been left out of pocket for payment due on a workshop. As a professional, I feel obliged to fulfill the portrait session and head to Raynes Park in South London. I photograph the man who has won me in an auction on his Harley Davison motorbike and playing football with his 18-month old son; I photograph him blowing bubbles with his son and pushing him on the swings in the park; after the shoot we head to the pub where the son of the man who has won me in an auction urinates all over his shirt.

24th It’s been 17 years since I graduated from the University of Derby with a first class BA (Hons) degree in Photographic Studies. In that time I haven’t heard a post-grad peep; surely I must be one of their more successful alumni? In a bold attempt at recognition, I write to the Dean; a lecture theatre named Dench perhaps? I’m offered a position as associate lecturer. I can’t commit to this but agree to deliver a five-hour workshop on crowd funding. Arriving in Derby the rain is thick; I check my bank account to see if the €10 note I’d dropped in over the weekend has cleared; it has not. After a 20-minute slosh through the familiar city, I arrive at the Markeaten Road Campus looking like I’ve wet myself; It’s not the ‘return in triumph’ I imagined. The workshop goes well and the students are responsive. I’m two hours early for my pre-booked return train to London and check my bank account to see if the €10 I’d dropped in over the weekend has cleared; it has not. I trade the £8 that is in the account for five bottles of cider and two bags of novelty crisps, find a place to picnic in the strip-lit station and watch customers come and go at Bubbles Massage and Spa - providing students with a first class finish for over 15 years.


1st Sat in the Villiers Terrace flicking through The Sun newspaper, I stop to admire the DD’s; Dear Deidre’s letters problem page. Ten years ago, I asked photographer Marcus Bleasdale -who had a contact at the paper - if he could get me a part in Dear Deidre’s photo casebook (a photo sequence of a daily drama) Not good looking enough to play the hunk, I craved the role as Cuckolded man stood shocked in the doorway of his fiancée’s bedroom as she is unfaithful. Assignments got in the way, and the photo casebook idea faded. It’s time to give my DD debut another try. Welcome to the Dear Deidre section of The Dench Diary...

Dear Deidre
I wet the bed until I reached puberty then suffered from premature ejaculation; it seems fluids didn't want to stay in my body for long.
 The only way I could last at making love was to have a few drinks beforehand, but then I often have had difficulty maintaining an erection.
 I've just met a woman I think I'm in love with, and am worried she may discover my inadequacies and leave me. Help!

Hi Peter,
Thanks for emailing.  I'm glad you got in touch and I hope I can help you.
 I'm sorry you are worried about not lasting very long.  This is one of the most common worries men write to me about but it is also one of the most easily put right.  I am attaching my leaflet about lasting longer, which has self-help steps to help you sort it out.
 Don't rely on alcohol because as you've discovered, it can only lead to further problems.
 I hope this is helpful.  Please let me know how you get on and do get in touch again if I can be of any further help.
All the best

Dear Deidre
Thanks for your quick reply, which I suppose is appropriate considering my problem HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  I was hoping I could trouble you with another.
 I was so surprised at how aroused I became looking at an advert of an elderly woman riding a Stannah Stairlift, that I volunteered to work in an old peoples home.
 I'm in my late 30's and known I've always liked older women, but I didn't realise just HOW old! I'm worried I might compromise my position by making advances.
 Is it illegal to date a woman 50 years your senior?
Kind Regards

PS. I would love to appear in Deidre's photo casebook, I think I'd make an excellent; cuckolded man stood shocked in the doorway of his fiancée’s bedroom as she is unfaithful.

Hi Pete

Thanks for emailing.  If this situation is as you say then I can understand your concerns.  I suggest you talk it through with someone sympathetic, outside the situation and I am attaching my leaflet Need Someone To Talk To. I hope you find it helpful.
 With regard to appearing in the casebook yourself, all the models that appear in the casebook are registered and are chosen by the agency Needham and Hanson. I suggest you write to Needham and Hanson
All the best

I check the models on the Needham and Hanson website; I wouldn’t even make the shocked father of the cuckolded man stood shocked in the doorway of his fiancée’s bedroom as she is unfaithful.

4th I’ve brushed my tongue and combed my hair and head over to White Cloth Gallery Leeds (UK) for the launch of photographer Ewen Spencer’s exhibition; England’s Dreaming. Taking a short cut through Leeds railway station I pull my camera out to add a few snaps to a project I’m gathering on commuters; it’s a dense denier affair. There are ripped tights; tall tights; striped tights; too tight tights; the right tights and bright tights. On arrival at the gallery, I ask Ewen to sign his book on the White Stripes.

10th I give a talk to the prestigious Muswell Hill Photographic Society (there is a two month waiting list) and get paid a handsome £50.

11th Attend the opening of Tom Wood’s exhibition Men and Women at The Photographers’ Gallery, London. Tom mentions Martin Parr can’t attend as he’s giving a talk to a northern camera club for a fee of £950. I consider sending Martin my fee from the Muswell Hill Photographic Society to round it up to £1,000.

19th - 21st The rail replacement bus ride to Destination Star Trek London, the first official live event in the UK in a decade, hosted at the Excel Centre, is a bumpy one; I Klingon. I’m on assignment to shoot a three-day reportage of the event for a Sunday newspaper supplement. The mostly tubby-trekkies don’t exude the ‘live long and prosper’ philosophy Spock would be proud of. Expectations are cosmic; the selling point for the event is all five television captains are to appear together: William Shatner, Sir Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew and Scott Bakula. At the press call to snap this unique occasion, Stewart refuses to materialize.


3rd I’m stood on a corner of Union Street in Plymouth where I photographed a man collapsed in the gutter over a decade ago. I was immersed in a long-term project documenting the drinking habits of the English. Union Street was then regarded as one of the most violent streets in the UK. I’d taken the train down the week before and only managed to shoot one frame before retreating, scared, back to London. I called Plymouth Police, explained what I was trying to achieve, and returned to photograph alongside them out on patrol. Documenting Union Street resembled a ballet penned by the devil; horny hoards would exit the pubs around 11pm to fight, fondle and puke, then head into the clubs and do it all again on departure around 2am. Today, Union Street is desolate; Jesters, The Boulevard & Millenium Discotheque are now closed. Choo Choo’s, home of the Vodka Jelly’s, once open until 6am, is closed; the £1 shop, Gentlemen’s Club & Ali Babas 40 Dishes, are open. The Malthouse, New Palace Theatre & The Phoenix, are closed. Aldi’s, Feneck’s Tailors & the Hair Port are open. As I document the decay, a man carrying a guitar case walks past and spits by my shoe; there is blood in the spit.

12th I’m about to give a presentation to second and third-year students on the BA photography degree course at the London College of Communication. I assume the role of Tom Cruise in Magnolia and imagine the confidence I will thrust on their expectant minds. British Gas call to demand payment on an outstanding amount and suggest I install a pay-as-you-go meter; I shuffle in to the classroom.

15th HOST Gallery, the self-appointed home of photojournalism and home of Foto8, is to close. With nostalgia and regret, I attend the gallery’s final opening and Foto8 office contents sale. The bin is on sale for £1; I check inside to see if it includes my rejected exhibition submissions.

21st I hear a report on the news that liver disease is on the rise due to the increase in people drinking at home; I resolve to do most of my drinking down the pub.


14th I’m on en route to Lapland to meet the real Santa Claus. On a five-hour stop over at Helsinki airport I fail to blag complimentary press access to the One World alliance lounge and its grotto of free booze. A glass of wine at the airport is €8.... Fifty-six euros later I’m about to board the flight to Rovaniemi, the official home of Santa. Families with chidlren board first; I board last and buckle up in my Busininess Claus seat. Arriving at the Santa Claus hotel, crying kids, tired kids and kids high on sugar bounce around the bar; I order a double Finlandia vodka and check my itinerary for the trip organised by the Lappish tourist board: ‘Visit to market days: Unique Arctic handicrafts at Arktikum’. I finger the baggage tag on my luggage, it has the Helsinki airport code printed in bold: HEL

16th I meet the real Santa; he’s a lot fatter in real life. Santa’s concerned digital files taken today will not survive in 30 years. I hand over the hand-written letter from my daughter and add that she’d also like a Western Digital My Book Thunderbolt Duo 6TB Desktop External Dual Drive Storage System with RAID. Back at the Santa Claus hotel, I read plans for the evening and the plans are for dinner at Nili, one of Finland’s finest restaurants. In anticipation of the Lappish feast I peruse the online menu and prepare my pallette for the bear meatballs, potato puree, oven baked root vegetables, black currant jelly and unripened cheese pepper sauce washed down with a bottle of sparkling cloudberry wine. On arrival at Nili, the waitress informs the Lappish tourist board have ordered on my behalf and I’m restricted to two glasses of wine; red or white. I’m not much of a pudding man and ask if I can exchange my baked apple for an extra glass of red; I am informed I cannot.

24th My tears taste of cider so I decide to stay in bed and cry all day.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Shot by Kern : Book Review

At the turn of the millennium, I found myself packing lightly for an eight day assignment for Men’s Health magazine. The commission was to produce a photographic reportage on the health benefits of naturism. I was excited. I was nervous. Would I get an unwanted, you know? Would the residents, you know, be bigger? Arriving at the Desert Shadows nudist resort in Palm Springs, California, I knocked on the door of the apartment I was to share with the writer Benjamin Mee (on whose life, the 2011 film, We Bought a Zoo, is based). I’d never met Benjamin before: “Hello, I’m Peter Dench,” I said, eyes flicking to his satisfyingly covered groin. “Hello, I’m Benjamin Mee.” We immediately established a strict clothes must be worn inside the apartment rule, and a strict, clothes must not be worn outside of the apartment rule, and set off to work, giddy at the prospect of a week probing the world of the naked and nearly naked. On the sixth day, Benjamin and I had had enough, and crept out of the resort and in to the local town bars in search of nipple against cloth and bum bulging denim. The daily role call of nakedness at Desert Shadows had sedated our libido.

It’s with a similar feeling of reprieve, that I reach page 278 of the Taschen book publishing title, Shot by Kern, by Richard Kern. “Would you like to review the new book by Richard Kern for Hungry Eye magazine?” I had been asked. “Yes I would” I replied. I’d not heard of Richard Kern, and idly tapped his name into Google. I ought to have first cleared the room of my family. If you like photographs of pretty girls (I do), you should have heard of Richard Kern. If you like photographs of pretty girls in underpants (I do do), then you should definitely have heard of Richard Kern. 

I immediately put in a request with the Taschen publishing relations manager to spend a day accompanying Kern on a shoot, to witness first hand the motivation of the man behind the lens; this was not possible. “How about an in person interview?” He wasn’t due in the UK any time soon. “How about a telephone or Skype chat?” Nope. A list of sample questions were requested. Kern would then make a decision on whether to reveal his answers personally.

According to his Wikipedia page, Kern is: ‘A New York underground filmmaker, writer and photographer. He first came to underground prominence as part of the underground cultural explosion in the East Village of New York City in the 1980s, with erotic and experimental films featuring underground personalities of the time.’

Sample question number one to Richard Kern. “Do you still consider yourself, and your work, underground?”

The book I ordered from Amazon arrived in a large brown box. As a result of ordering the book from Amazon, Peter Dench’s featured recommendations, along with children’s books and moth traps, now includes books by Helmut Newton, Nan Goldin, Guy Bourdin and Pussy Girls: Totally Unshaven & Natural Bushes by Walter Bosque. Making sure, this time, the apartment is clear of family, friends, the vulnerable, the easily offended and infirm, I run a scalpel down the packing tape and open. Two fresh faced girls peek out from the water along with a single unblinking nipple. I slide my hand across the wipeable cover and flip the girls over. On the reverse, two girls in knickers and bra play with another girls head hair. The wraparound cover can be fingered off, so I do, revealing an up-skirt shot of a girl wearing a blue dress and no panties. Her glistening labia is pressed firmly into the books spine. Delicately lifting back the front cover, the first image of the book is the books' author, a 50-something Kern is pictured lying on a tiled floor, holding a reflector and looking up between a girls legs. 

©Richard Kern

What follows is turned after turned page of photographs of naked or semi-naked girls*. Girls brush their teeth. Girls brush each others teeth. Girls lie on the floor wearing knickers. Girls lie on the floor without wearing knickers. They lie on the stairs, on tables and stand on their heads. There are girls in the shower, in the bath and naked in the snow. There are girls on the toilet, on the bed and on all fours. There are girls holding bowls of fruit, one holds a guitar, another holds a condom. One girl reads a book, one puts clothes in a washing machine, two girls put their head in the oven. There’s a sequence of girls holding prescription medicine and another of girls with their own personal technology. Girls kiss, they yawn, they cry. Two run together topless on the beach, others squat alone in the wood. Girls in knickers smoke pot. Girls in knickers jump up and down. Girls wearing knickers bend over looking back through their legs and girls with no knickers on bend over looking back through their legs. One girls does yoga, another has a cup of tea. There’s a girl with a thermometer stuck up her ass and one stuck in her mouth, she looks well. Then page 278, the reprieve; two fully clothed girls hold hands, one swigs alcohol from a bottle. I breathlessly mirror her act.

The girls in Shot by Kern are freshly scrubbed and the style of photography is refreshingly natural. The photographs deliver in detail colour pants of all shades and sheer. Girls flow across the pages with red hair, brown hair, blonde hair and black hair, but only one or two has determinatively black skin. The 300 or so images in the book were shot by Kern over seven years, the result of traveling extensively across Europe via Canada, Mexico and the United States in search of real girls in real settings. That’s a lot of girls. They say as a man, you get into photography for two reasons; because you’re in to cameras and kit, or you’re in to women.

Sample question number two to Richard Kern. “Are you in to cameras and kit?”

You get a DVD with the book.  It’s glued rather haphazardly in cheap tight plastic to the inside of the back cover. I think they’ve missed a trick not having it hung behind a soft, stretched fine denier sheath that you can rip open. The innocuous looking DVD, edited by Kern and G. Blackshire, featuring original music by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, the band with whom Kern has had an association with since the 1980’s, is a little disappointing. The expectations roused by the Adult Viewing Only warning, then the THIS DVD CONTAINS ADULT CONTENT WARNING, then the FBI Warning, aren’t appeased. It’s basically an animated version of the book. I’d prefer a best of the Benny Hill TV show compilation DVD. The end of DVD Extra, is five minutes of white gloop, one must assume is soap, being liberally squirted on girls that they then rub over their nubile form. For the climax Extra Extra, a girl in the Czech Republic does some star jumps in her white knickers with her knockers out.

©Richard Kern

The Shot by Kern collection of 25 minute videos at Vice are more advisable viewing. Videos where the girls have a voice, share anecdotes and show attitude, and where Kern, explains in a low level matter of fact manner, what is required on the shoots and what inspires his desire to continue taking these type of photographs.

Sample question number three to Richard Kern. “You turn 60 next year, will you stop photographing girls in pants?”

I think I already know the answer. It’s not surprising Kern wants sample questions before exerting his energy answering them, he’s a busy man. Perhaps he thinks he’s been asked them all before and is bored of having to answer them. Perhaps I’m completely wrong.

Kern’s photographs are more innocent than insulting and more underwear than underground. They echo an age before the sate-any-appetite eruption of the internet, an age of innocence when Kern was just a boy. They prick the urge for a return to purity, when the simple act of a girl with her breasts out, and her head in the oven, is enough to titillate the retina.

I stick back the DVD, pull up a chair, and thrust the 23.5cm x 31cm x 3cm book onto the top shelf where it rests beside another banished-from-family-fingers Taschen titan; America Swings by Naomi Harris (not the actress). Shot by Kern, with an introduction by Jesse Pearson, was first published on my 41st birthday. It’s a book I would have liked to have photographed as a young man, and a book I would have liked to have viewed as an adolescent.

*Disclaimer - At the time of writing, all the girls mentioned in this review are understood to be aged 18 years or over. Probably.

A version of this feature first appeared in Issue 12  Volume I of Hungry Eye available to buy here