Saturday, 1 February 2014

Dench Diary : August - October 2013

August 2013

22nd The London Evening Standard newspaper publish a two page article about a commercial assignment I’m working on in collaboration with the media agency OMD. The Future of Britain initiative aims to build a comprehensive archive of what it’s like to live in modern Britain through fact finding and photography. In April I began to create a visual essay photographing in towns and cities and at events across the UK to document what I thought would reveal most about living in modern Britain; commuters, the high street, football matches, supermarkets, youths on street corners, caravan parks, modified car competitions, beauty pageants, women having a spray tan, war re-enactors, off licences and the pub. The photographs are uploaded to the website and blog. The public have been asked to get involved and suggest where I should go and what I should photograph; a digital poster campaign suggests ‘tweet Pete to come and take photographs in your area’. The Evening Standard distributes around 700,000 copies. As the issue hits the stands, I cork a Rioja Reserva 2008 Lagunilla, take a seat at my desk and wait for the avalanche of suggestions. One woman asks if I can photograph her dog at a show in Penge, another asks if I can photograph her sons under 14 rugby cup final and the Hampstead Photographic Society, call to see if I can give a presentation to it’s members. The Future of Britain is in my hands, well one hand, there’s a glass of wine in the other. I agree to one of the three suggestions.

©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images

26th As co-creative director at White Cloth Gallery, Leeds UK, it’s my task to asses and respond to the stream of exhibition submissions. If in the future, you would like to submit an exhibition proposal, please accept these general guidelines for success. Find out who to send your proposal to rather than a general ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or ‘To Whom it May Concern’ introduction; do not send half a dozen links and expect them to be edited into a coherent exhibition; try meeting the person who decides what to exhibit in person, generally exhibitions have a better chance of confirmation if you are known personally; have a look at previous exhibitions, take note of the quality, theme and content - if there’s no previous evidence of glamour, landscape or experimental photography, it is unlikely your submission will triumph. If you receive a reply along the lines of ‘Unfortunately the work isn't right for our current exhibition strategy’ you have not adhered to the above.

©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images


2nd - 8th The photographer being restrained by waiters working at Le Grande Café de la Poste during the 2012 Visa pour l’Image festival of photojournalism breaks free and thunders his clenched fists towards me. Earlier, I’d passively extracted myself from the conversation at the table we were seated when he voiced a menacing dislike to my photographic style and representation of the English (the next occupant of the seat I’d vacated wasn’t so controlled and yanked him across the table thrusting his head repeatedly into the cracked slabs of the historic town square before the waiters intervened to suspend the melee). This time, I’ve no time to extract myself from the incoming outrage, quickly drop my left shoulder and take a glancing blow to the right side of the noggin. The man who has taken an enhanced dislike to my photographic style and representation of the English stoops past and is once again scrambled into restraint. The following afternoon, after unsolicited advice from the photographic community, the man who took a violent dislike to my photographic style and representation of the English fronts up for an apology; “I’m sorry, I was drunk, I don’t really remember what happened.”

A year on, at the 25th Visa pour l’Image festival of photojournalism, I reflect on the incident and post a tweet;

“Will xxxxxxx fists be making an appearance this year? #perpignan #2012highlight”

A response by email arrives;


Can you remove the tweet about me from your twitter account.
I don't know why you have written that. It's rather childish.

Maybe you should consider spending your spare time doing something more constructive.”

Maybe I should consider spending my spare time doing something more constructive and type a reply;

“Dear xxxx

Wielding your fists in my opinion is childish.

I have posted over 7000 tweets without complaint and don't intend to start editing them now.

I made the decision to remove your first name [from the tweet] and not to write an account of your actions in my memoirs which were published last week and available to purchase via my blog.

You must be accountable in life for your actions. If you had bruised my face with your idiotic behaviour it would have jeopardised my business in Perpignan at considerable personal cost.

I have considered your request for more time than you deserve; the tweet has been posted, you should move on to something more constructive.


I press send.


Just remove the tweet. There is no good reason for it to be there other than to spite and to cause offense and embarrassment. I apologised to all concerned about what happened last year and to you in person.

That should be considered me taking account of my actions.

Just do the decent thing and remove it, save any further embarrassment.”

I decide not to type a reply and receive an additional email.

“Clearly you are a very spiteful individual.

I was man enough to apologise to you for what happened last year but you thought it right and proper to reignite.

As for potentially ruining your business I find that very hard to believe. Mimicking another photographers style lacks authorship and creativity. Sorry to be so blunt.

I may lack your superior social skills but photography is about the work one produces
not self- obsessed pretentiousness.

Best of luck with the memoirs.”

I type a :-) and press send.

Sipping a beer back at Café de la Poste, I swill the memory around my mouth. Another keen photographer of the English approaches and jabs his finger in my shoulder. “Are we friends?” Jab. “Are we friends?” Jab jab. “I’ve heard you’re a nice guy, but are we friends?” Jab jab jab. I consider the question. Are we friends? I holiday with my friends; meet them for drinks and nibbles in the Villiers Terrace; telephone them for advice; look after their children and lust after their wives. In that context, the man with the over active digits and I are not friends. We’re not even Facebook friends; I’d recently ‘unfriended’ him as a reprieve from the excessive posting of their work on my timeline. I chuck back the rest of my beer, thud the glass on the table, stand up and give his back a cheery slap. “Of course we friends, what are you drinking?” 

©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images

10th Walking into the Hampstead Photographic Society (HPS) to give an evening talk, I bring the average age down significantly. I’m first substitute replacement for Vicki Couchman who had to pull out at short notice. The club chairman informs me that I was in fact second choice preferred replacement for Vicki Couchman. I grab a copy of the club programme and pour some water into an ‘A A Hampstead Living Sober’ mug and peruse: ‘May 06 - Photographers we like: Lord Snowdon and Hugh Diamond’. Oh dear. My fee for the evening is “a nice bottle of red wine”. I hope they present it before the talk and check in my bag that I brought my opener. I did and make a mental reminder to return on March 25th for: ‘An evening with Bob Slott - A chance to see Bob’s excellent images and hear how his Cape Cod club is run’. The HPS comedian and professional Chauffeur, plugs the computer into the newly acquired Epson projector (retailing at around £900), a picture of an otter flicks on to the screen. I explain that’s not one of my photographs, he seems surprised and continues to clip in wires and unclip others. I chat with Michael who looks after production of the newsletter. Michael wasn’t successful in this years Taylor Wessing photographic portrait prize award but did have some success in the Isle of Wight festival. Retired psychologist, Richard, interjects and promises to post me his published paper on Dr Hugh Welch Diamond. I wrote my photographic degree dissertation on Dr Diamond and his use of photography in the treatment of nineteenth century female lunatics; it hasn’t proved useful in the development of my career. An Optometrist looks over and regales a tale of his adventure cruise to eastern Russia and his passion for photographing birds, but not as huddled groups or flocks, as individual birds. I took books to sell at the evening, on the return journey home, my bag is heavier than when I arrived.

©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images

13th I settle down in anticipation of the ‘nose to tail eating’ of a suckling pig in the private dining room of St. John’s, an English restaurant opened in October 1994 by Fergus Henderson, Trevor Gulliver and Jon Spiteri, on the premises of a former bacon smoke-house. Our host for the evening, reminds us not to photograph or tag any of the Jews, Muslims or ‘vegetarians’ in the room on social media before we all begin to tuck into the swine.

23rd Sat outside Villiers Terrace enjoying a late burst of summer sunshine, my daughters school class walk past on their way to a swimming lesson. I raise my glass of rosé wine and wave jovially at her; she doesn’t wave back.

24th “What’s in the packet?” the man behind the post office counter asks of the envelope destined for Australia. “My memoirs!” I reply enthusiastically. I’m sure I correctly hear his coughed response. “Dick”.


3rd Sitting down for lunch in the Groucho Club, London, with international thriller writer, Tom Knox, I order the tuna tartare to start and chicken paillard for the main course. After graduating from the University of Derby in 1995, I moved straight to London and looked for a venue to hang my degree show rather than store it in the tiny room I was renting in a shared flat. The Groucho Club had one and agreed to host the work for a two week period following Easter. Following Easter, I received a telephone call from the Groucho Club asking if I had invited anyone along to the evenings private view. I picked up the telephone and invited along my mate Craig and we jumped on the slow moving number 91 bus towards Soho. Walking into the Groucho’s exhibition room where my work was displayed, there was a buffet, a bar and two sartorially glorious barmaids. “What’s happening in here?” I asked. “It’s a private view for the photographer Peter Dench and the F***er hasn’t turned up.” I did what any self respecting photographer would do and denied my own existence “that’s outrageous” grabbed Craig and we flung ourselves among the throng jiggling about at the adjacent party where we pointed in awe at celebrities Chris Evans, Rory McGrath, Bill Nighy and Kate Moss. When I returned to collect my exhibition, there was one comment in the comments book; it read, “a bit nonplussed really”.

6th Walking into the Gamma Photo Forum, Shipley, Yorkshire, to give a morning talk, I bring the average age down significantly; they’ve promised to buy me lunch and I eagerly anticipate the early bird menu.

7th Walking into the Harrogate Photographic Society (HPS) to give an evening talk, I bring the average age down significantly, no wait! There is youth; pure, crisp, unsoiled, sweet-scented youth, courtesy of visiting 6th form students from St Aidan’s Church of England High School and Harrogate College. This is a good news; two recent meetings of the HPS began with the announcement of which members had died. I hope they all make it through my presentation, I hate interruptions.

A version of this article first appeared in  Vol: 2, Issue: 1 of Hungry Eye magazine available to buy here

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