Friday, 27 June 2014

Dench Diary : October - January 2014

 October 2013

“Where’s my money?”

8th Director of photography at the Sunday Times Magazine, Jone Jones, is curious why I don’t want to work for them anymore. I’m curious why I don’t as I definitely do and always have done since my first assignment from them in 1998. Jones explains he was informed by someone, that I wasn’t happy with way my work was last published in the magazine. I ask who this someone is; I would like to talk to that someone.

11th It’s 8.47am; the man behind the bar of the Devonshire House Wetherspoon pub in Crouch End gently explains he can’t serve me the requested pint of Stowford Press cider until 9am; “It’s the law”. I slowly remove my sunglasses and let his eyes rove across my scarlet scleras. He pours a pint of Stowford Press cider, slides it over and informs me he’ll ring the money through the till at 9am.

©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images

“Where’s my money?”

18th 06.45am the mist slowly lifts over Brixton where fishmongers slap their cod stock over ice on Atlantic road and overhead trains thrust tired commuters towards their tie required jobs. I’m waiting for a lift to the Photoreporter festival in Saint-Brieuc, Brittany, France, where my print exhibition, The British Abroad is to premier. The white panel van arrives and I slide across the lap of VII agency snapper Donald Weber and rest my knee next to our designated driver, VII agency snapper, Anastasia Taylor Lind (ATL). ATL is embarking on the first leg of her new project, Negative Zero, about Europe’s declining populations. She hasn’t used the Garmin brand Sat Nav system before, or any brand of Sat Nav before; she hasn’t driven for a while or owned a vehicle for five years. She prods the Sat Nav into life, it directs us towards the Croydon Ikea store; a few more prods and our destination is set - estimated journey time, eight and a half hours.

En route to the Eurotunnel crossing at Folkestone, we pull in for some stomach fuel. Jade, who has four stars on her badge, is our designated McServer; the bacon is missing from my muffin and a coke is served instead of a coffee; that’s four-star service for you. We tut past Jade, head back towards the van and observe a Romanian family boiling pans of water on the roof of their current hatchback home.

Driving on to the brightly painted train that will take us under the channel, the exterior reminds us too late, not to leave our pets at home alone. ATL maneuvers the van into position and we all jump out of the front and into the back, resisting the temptation to close the curtains and rock the van from side to side to bristle the stoic middle aged, middle class couple sat in the vehicle behind peering at maps over half moon spectacles.

Ejaculating from the tunnel to the tunes of Johnny Cash, ATL explains her experience of hostile environment training and ways to extract yourself from the van if we plummet from the bridge we are careering across; I diligently write it down and am now afraid of bridges.

Weber, who is not a morning man, also has an exhibition at the festival, War Sand, about the D-Day landing beaches; in between naps he entertains us with Don’s D-Day trivia. After a diversion to Omaha beach to collect some sand to complement his exhibition and a burger and beer at the grammatically incorrect, D’ Day Bar and Hotel, the 2006 panel van finally invades the outskirts of Saint-Brieuc. Total journey time, fifteen and a half hours.

 ©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images

“Where’s my money?”

19th A lone bagpiper weaves through the streets of Saint-Brieuc luring the recently arrived train of international press towards La Maison du Festival for a champagne and foie gras buffet. The venue for my exhibition, is a ten minute drive away from the town centre and the press visit is scheduled for 4.30pm; this is unfortunate as the venue of my exhibition closes at 4pm. Instead, we are all driven to the beach; this is unfortunate as the beach has no bar. I continue my lifelong quest to revive the lost art of mime (the French love mime) and deliver in silent gesture my feelings on the matter. The two men who look after the venue of my exhibition hop over for an enthusiastic “bonjour!” I ask them if the international press would be able to see my exhibition before they depart the following day; no they would not, the venue is closed on Sunday. How about I organize a Monday morning visit with the other exhibiting photographers and the delightful family of my blossoming bromance buddy, Panos photographer, Guy Martin? Not possible, the venue would only be open from 2-4pm.

20-22nd On Tuesday I do get to see my exhibition, along with 45 other visitors who have registered on the number clicker. The highlight is seeing the response from kids as they confront The British Abroad for the first time. The remaining days at the festival is spent ignoring the complimentary chicken suppers; eating offal crepes; drinking cider from bolés; hearing 2013 W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund winner Robin Hammond unsuccessfully bark orders at bar owners to stop smoking cigarettes inside; trying to decipher how I’ll be utilised from the French language festival schedule and trying to secure an answer to the question; “where’s my money?” The Photoreporter festival aims to offer a solution to an industry in crisis by funding photographic projects that magazines are unlikely to be able to afford to commission. I was awarded a grant of €8,500 to produce my reportage, The British Abroad. The funding would be delivered in three installments; one before the reportage commenced; one after selection of the photographs for the exhibition and the final installment, between the 10th  and 15th of September 2013 after the exhibition has been printed. I advised the festival that I would begin the reportage in April and two installments would be required up front to complete the photography. The first installment arrived in May and the second installment eight days before the deadline to submit the images; the final installment has not materialsed.

24th Grumbling onto the Eurostar train home I try to sleep, I need to sleep. The old woman opposite me pops a mint in her mouth and rolls it around her gnashers; her friend next to me smells of dust. I gather my things and swagger towards the buffet bar.

 With James O Jenkins and a replica of the FA Cup

“Where’s my money?”

26th Jocelyn Bain Hogg (JBH) shifts uncomfortably in his seat; it’s not surprising, his seat is very small. The 6ft 4inch VII agency snapper counts down the last ten seconds of what has been a fidgety 90 minutes. The final whistle is blown and Manchester United have triumphed over Stoke City, twice coming from behind to win 3-2. It’s the first live football match JBH has ever seen, and I suspect, his last. We are in Manchester to deliver a Street Photography workshop to the 2013 Young Creative Chevrolet winners. The previous evening we delivered a panel discussion on the genre and ate some beef alongside modern United legend, Denis Irwin. I check the schedule: lunch at Old Trafford, done; watch match, done; drinks reception at Old Trafford Museum then return bus to the Hilton and walk to a bar; splendid!  I show JBH, he perks up, stands up, we grab fellow workshop instructor James O Jenkins and head off to indulge in our commitments.

27th I’m in Stockport and not to see photography book publisher Dewi Lewis; what are the odds!?

31st I’ve looked at the books Hollywood Dogs, Kittenhood and From the Cradle to the Grave and am now looking to bring back to life my enthusiasm for photography. Perhaps the Pentti Sammallahti exhibition in the The Photographers’ Gallery print room will provide some and I stride over from the gallery bookshop. There’s a 25 x 20cm photograph of what looks like a fish (or muppet) in front of the sun (or moon) retailing at £785 + vat framed; there’s another photograph of a windmill. I sigh onto the tube train home and watch passengers play Candy Crush as they think about the carbs they’ll crunch alongside their non-plussed lovers splayed out on the sofa. A young woman who smells of Dewberry juice smiles at me; her kid is wearing the mask of Chucky (the fictional character and antagonist of the Child’s play horror franchise of films), the child looks like his mum; I don’t smile back.


“Where’s my money?”

1st I think my daughter is developing a slur from the bedtime stories I read to her.

3rd How long have I spent in pubs? How much of my life have I seen reflected back at me from the mirrors behind the bar? How many times have my eyes roved around aged stained oak walls and plaster cornicing? Not enough, and I grab my coat and head towards Villiers Terrace. Sat comfortably in my seat I take a pleasing photograph of a blond woman in a peach skirt and consider the possibility of my next project: Seen From My Seat at Villiers Terrace.

©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images

4th International thriller writer Tom Knox is also hyperbolic Telegraph blogger Sean Thomas. He has an idea for a blog about posh people squatting in journalism and has cast me as the battling working class hero; he’ll also mention my published memoirs in an effort to shift the remaining copies. The blog is posted and causes a rumpus and romps past 1,000 Facebook shares and over 250 on Twitter; my book sells out. A mini brouhaha breaks out in response to the blog on my personal Facebook page including a comment by renowned photographer Paul Reas;

“I worked for the Sunday Times and Telegraph magazines for many years and I don't need two hands to count the number of "Working Class" writers I worked with. As for photographers? Paradoxically the "successful" Working Class ones are those who betray their class by representing them in ways that conform to the pre existing stereotypes. And here I am thinking of people like Nick Wapplington, Richard Billingham and, I'm sorry to say, one of the biggest culprits, Peter Dench.

That’s me! I’m a success and flattered to be mentioned in such esteemed company; the books of Wapplington, Billingham and also Reas were influential in convincing me to pursue a career in photography. Reas’s image in particular, from the book I Can Help, of a man in B&Q wearing combat trousers, holding a roll of military themed wallpaper and with a fag in his mouth, was validation that a photojournalist didn’t have to board an aeroplane to the front line of a war, you could just board a bus and pop down the shop. (hear more here);

 “Where’s my money?”

5th Internationally acclaimed chef, Marcus Wareing, who has been achieving Michelin Stars since 1997, fixes me with his grey-blue eyes and passionately imparts the memory of sorting out moldy potatoes from the sack with his father. I gulp back some Nyetimber fine English sparkling wine. I’m in the elegant Pomerol private dining room at The Berkeley, where Wareing is resident chef; I’ll be giving a 20 minute presentation at the end of the four courses about my experiences photographing the British to the seated diners. The canapés in The Blue Bar alerted the taste buds of the quality to come; the salmon (poached in a bag at 58C) with watercress is a fishy delight; the Herdwick lamb, buttermilk, gem and mint, divine and the apple pre-dessert, cleansing. Remembering my Telegraph blog working class credentials, I order a pint of lager to accompany the treacle, custard and date desert.

14th Today I decide to die; not literally of course. I exercise a bit, eat healthily, my BMI is satisfactory but  I do drink too much and have conceded that is unlikely to change. Experts advise alcohol can make you depressed, I agree, I cut down yesterday and never felt so low. Booze is the hand I’ve been dealt (or bottle I’ve been handed), the die is cast and I embrace those odds.

15th My daughter’s goldfish died this morning. She asks for a rabbit to replace it. Kids can be cruel - I’m not even sure rabbits can swim.

20th I’m at White Cloth Gallery, Leeds UK, for the launch of it’s classic film poster exhibition. As a teenage boy growing up in Weymouth I was lucky enough to have a neighbour who worked at the local cinema. She was lucky enough to have a laminated free entry + 1 pass and liked me enough to lend it once a week. She also provided me with film posters for my own collection (since thrown out by my mum); Condorman, Clash of the Titans and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off among my unfolded favourites. Viewing the White Cloth classic film posters release a reel of forgotten cinema memories: Westlers hot dogs; Pearl & Dean; bad local advertisements for leather coat outlets and the silky soft thighs of Lucy and her friend Tarni.

22nd “Where’s my money?” oh there it is; I’m the first of the 13 Saint-Brieuc Photoreporter festival exhibitors to be paid in full [the majority of exhibitors would not be paid until January].

29th I skip lunch to help set up the projector and deliver a presentation of my work to Swansea Metropolitan University BA(HONS) Photography students. After the presentation, one student informs: “That’s the first lecture I’ve stayed awake for all the way through”, praise indeed; another Tweets, “I learnt one thing. You have to slut around to be a photojournalist!” I think that about covers it and bid Swansea a fond farewell. On the way out I’m offered half a carrot for my three and a half hour train journey home . . . 


4th The host at La Fromagerie winter cheese and wine tasting explains; “Tamie de L’Abbaye, Savoie is a monastery cheese made by Trappist Monks living a vow of silence; the richness of the milk with the hints of herbs and flowers from the grazing areas changes with each season. In the winter when the cattle are housed in smaller fields in the valleys and fed with a supplement of dry hay, the cheeses have a more farmyard aroma and taste. In the Spring, Summer and early Autumn when the cattle are grazing the mountain pastures, the cheeses have the added flora and lush grass to give the lovely nutty, mossy flavours.” I ask; “If the Monks do make a noise, is the cheeses ruined? Our host gives me a look that says it all; be quiet.

14th My mother-in-law makes sure the chicken is overcooked before we drive to a nearby Wiltshire village to view the house draped in Christmas fairy lights that is exciting the local community. I live in London, unless fairy lights guide me to a cocktail lounge I’m nonplussed. The house is raising money through visitor donations for an epilepsy charity; the lights blink rapidly, dazzling in the drizzle.

©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images

15th Sat on a train opposite a disabled woman, I kindly ask if she'd like me to get her anything from my visit to the buffet? She asks if I can purchase her a gin and tonic and hands me a ten pound note. At the buffet, I order four cans of Strongbow cider, a family size bag of Quavers and the woman's G&T. The total cost is more than I expected and more than I have for my cider and crisps. Returning to my seat, I pass the woman her G&T and short change which she looks at with some concern: "Train prices eh, robbery!" I exclaim, raise my eyebrows and crack open the first of my four tinned delights.

25th There’s green dog shit on the bedroom rug and on the kitchen mat; there’s yellow dog sick in the hall. My daughter has a hacking cough, my mother-in-law has a wheezy chest. The pedometer says I’ve taken 4,208 steps today, all of them to refill my wife’s wine glass and I’ve drunk so much cider, I half expect to crap out an apple: A Crapple!!!! Merry Christmas.

January 2014

New year resolution(s);

- stop having cider for breakfast
- deny cider is booze
- start calling cider milk

1st - 15th  I wait, watching, listening for the year to fizz and pop into life; not a lot happens to be fair. I take Grace to Winter Wonderland and wear through a chair at Villiers Terrace; I’m not so much treading water as dead in the water. I eat some pickled onions, pickled eggs, pickled gherkins and buy some wine, lots and lots of wine, novelty wine. I wouldn’t ordinarily buy a bottle of wine with a small detachable plastic bull attached to the neck but my daughter likes to collect them; alright, she doesn’t like to collect them but it makes me feel better if I think she likes to collect them. If my daughter ever decides she would like to collect small plastic bulls, or you have a child that might, let me know, I have a bucket full. Cheers, may 2014 be a triumph for us all.

A wide edit of The British Abroad can be viewed here

Copies of England Uncensored are available to purchase for £20 here

A version of this feature first appeared in Issue 2 Volume 2 of Hungry Eye magazine available here

1 comment:

  1. Laugh-out-loud funny. I like the "Seen from my seat at VT" project, you just need to find a sponsor... Magners perhaps?
    The British Abroad is incredible and also a little depressing.