Monday, 24 November 2014

Dench Diary : April - July 2014

April 2014

The only way I come home to a cooked meal is if I come home, cook a meal, go out and come back home.

12th My agency have the task of commissioning photographers to shoot wall-art for branches of a well known bank and I’ve been assigned 13 of them, it’s a cushy number. The client has identified a local landmark to be photographed for each branch; they don’t want any people in the shot so the photograph must be taken early in the morning, the sun must be shining and no post production is required. Basically, I get to earn some money without having to talk to anyone while taking a stroll in the London sunshine and be finished before pub opening time (even before the Crouch End Wetherspoon). At my first location, there’s a massive road excavation in front of the desired local landmark; at another, the sun is directly behind the local landmark; another is covered with scaffolding and at a fourth location, a giant tent has been erected from which to sell sell German sausages, a giant German flag flies dominantly in the breeze. I do my best and submit the files.

25th On the way home from an afternoon session at The Alex (formerly Villiers Terrace) I pick up two 330ml bottles of Peroni from the off licence next door. As the Friday night commuter cars nudge slowly towards Muswell Hill, I like to assume the occupants peering thirstily from the windows are thinking ‘what a sensible chap, taking two bottles of Peroni home to enjoy with his (self-cooked) evening meal.' The Peroni isn’t to drink at home, it’s in case I need a drink on the way home; the number of steps from The Alex to my front door is 325 (less from my front door to The Alex).

©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images

30th I visit photographer Brian Griffin to interview him for this magazine. Griffin won’t be forgotten by history but he understands a photographer has to work hard to be remembered. I think about this on the recoil from his neighbourhood in south London back to mine in north London. There are limited slots in the history books for each generation, often allocated by a self-selected few; academics who haven’t a talent for taking photographs; gallerists who need to make a profit from the exhibitions they choose to show; photographers who haven’t taken a picture for some time trading on a reputation achieved some time ago. I ponder how I’ll be remembered, or if I’ll be remembered, or if I even should.

Arriving home later than usual, my wife is preparing something in the kitchen, this is unusual. “What’s for dinner darling?” “There’s nothing in the fridge, I’m making sandwiches for my lunch." When she’s done making sandwiches for her lunch, I take a look in the fridge. For dinner I serve chilli, ginger and garlic prawns in a tomato sauce with onion, sugar snap peas, mushrooms, fresh green beans, tinned cannelloni beans and parmesan shavings. My wife says; “It’s delicious.”

©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images


1st It’s the day of the inaugural Hungry Eye roadshow #Exposed 1; 'created to introduce the Hungry Eye philosophy and its people to people in various pockets of the UK. The hope is to offer real insight, advice and opportunity to those who might be willing/able/interested enough to join in for the day.’ The destination for the day is Falmouth University. Falmouth isn’t so much a pocket of the UK as roll-up cigarette dropped in the turn-up of a long forgotten pair of flared jeans. The return train journey back to London is so long I manage to sober up twice.

21st Some of the photographs I delivered of local landmarks to be displayed in the branches of a well known bank have been rejected by the client; one has been rejected because there are not enough green leaves on the trees; another because the scene looks ‘too cold’ and a third because the clouds look threatening. There is no budget for a re-shoot; I pick up my kit back and head out to re-shoot.


8th *repeat gag alert* [see Hungry Eye Issue 4 Volume 1]. My wife ran her first marathon in April 2014, now she doesn’t get out of bed for less than 10K. This morning, my nine year old daughter is running the 5K Race for the Kids in Battersea Park and must be accompanied by an adult, I get out of bed. Not wanting to embarrass my daughter, I’d decided to do a test run on a recent visit to Weymouth. On the train to Weymouth, I read in my wife’s Runner’s World magazine, the article - Run Your First 5K; there were 12 tips. ‘Tip 7 - eat or drink nothing new the night before or the morning of the race, this is not the time to experiment.’ Adhering to that advice, I drank a bottle and a half of Merlot the night before and had a burp for breakfast, completing the Weymouth test 5K in around 40 minutes. This morning I’m feeling confident, having only drank one bottle of Malbec the night before; I visualise, in slow motion, the cheerleaders that have jollied the runners around the Battersea course the previous two years as they flash their knickers thrusting up their tanned long legs shouting “go Dench, go Dench, go Dench.” Arriving at the race, there are no cheerleaders and the warm up lady looks like my mother-in-law Helen. Approaching the finish line I take off my sweat saturated t-shirt; my daughter remarks that I look like Dr Zoideberg without his shell, the fictional pink flabby lobster-esque character in the television series Futurama. I forget to apply ‘Tip 12; smile as you finish and raise your arms in triumph, like the champ you are.’

9th After the northern film premier of Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist at White Cloth Gallery, Leeds, UK, I travelled back to London with the films director, James Erskine. He told me about his new film, Shooting for Socrates, a David v Goliath tale set amongst the troubles in Belfast against the backdrop of Northern Ireland’s participation in the 1986 football world cup finals and their much anticipated match against Brazil. Erskine invited me along to today’s recording of that Northern Ireland teams 86’ tongue-in-cheek anthem, ‘We’re Not Brazil, We’re Northern Ireland’ for the film soundtrack. Arriving at the south west London recording studio, I’m excited to see footballing legends David Campbell and Gerry Armstong pulling on authentic looking jersey’s and tracksuits for the rehearsal and squeeze past global rockers and Snow Patrol band members Gary Lightbody and guitarist Jonny Quinn to say hello.

I have been married twelve years; I decide to take my wife out for dinner.

11th Today I achieved another milestone in life; I am now too-fat-for-slim-fit.

18th My daughter has finally admitted to her school friends what I do for a living (or what she thinks I do for a living) and volunteered me to photograph her class fashion show; it’s the most nervous I’ve been on a shoot and most powerful I’ve felt - I don’t take a photograph of her classmate Rory after his dad and I had a disagreement over seating arrangements at the 2012 school Christmas play.

I cook a nice extra portion of spiced Moroccan lamb as I’m working late the next day and would like to have a cooked dinner to come home to. Arriving home the following evening, I ask my wife what she had for dinner; “I found a nice portion of spiced Moroccan lamb in the fridge.”

©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images

21st In August 1998, The Sunday Times Magazine commissioned my first ‘proper’ assignment, a reportage of life in Britain’s most sociable roadside lay-by. I think it was the photographer, Simon Roberts, who once advised on shooting projects, something along the lines of; ‘do it different, do it better, or do it five-years later.’ It’s been sixteen years since I spent a weekend in the Old Willoughby Hedge lay-by next to the A303 and I think I could do it different and better. I call my friend Ben and we decide to shoot a video - 24 hours in the life of a lay-by. Arriving in the Wiltshire off-cut just before sunset, the lay-by is overgrown and deserted. I purchase a four-pack of Strongbow cider at a garage and watch the sun set over nearby Stonehenge before Ben drives us back to London.

28th Continuing my effort to be more proactive in my daughters school life, I have volunteered for an hour to supervise the bouncy castle at the summer fair; admission is £1 for ten minutes, a maximum of eight people allowed on at one time. Rory arrives and asks if he can go on? “That’ll be £2 please Rory.”

 ©Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images


4th “Focus.” A bejewelled butt plug falls from the backside of Stella Cox (not her real name), a young porn actress from Reading and rolls across the grubby wooden floor towards my foot. Cox is relatively new to the industry; she hasn’t yet found a way to tell her parents that she does this kind of work. She doesn’t think her mum will mind too much but suspects her dad will have concerns. The bejewelled butt plug is cleaned, re-lubed and thumbed back into position. “Focus.” It’s very busy in the damp basement of a prestigious W1 London address; there’s Stella Cox of course, co-talent George from the Czech Republic (definitely not Jewish), a director, cameraman, stills photographer, make-up artist, sound recorder, two security guards and a curious number of guests including Pete, dressed in khaki knee-length shorts, who I’m reliably informed, owns a giant used car dealership near Heathrow. “Don’t forget the tits.” Other more elegantly dressed guests loiter on set, smoking decadently, checking their iPhones and sipping Jameson’s brand whisky. “Focus.” As the camera rolls, I stifle a sneeze; a cough; a yawn and am in constant crisis about dropping my pen. “Vagina to arse with condom is fine.” As I watch the bejewelled butt plug dance around in the camera light, I’m reminded of the title sequence of the mid-to-late 1970’s children’s television programme, Jamie and His Magic Torch; when Jamie shines his Magic Torch on the floor of his bedroom a hole appears, leading Jamie and Wordsworth the sheepdog to the psychedelic fantasy world of Cuckooland. “Fingers back to mouth please.” This feels like Cuckooland; a red glow emanates from two doors, mouse traps are accidentally kicked along scuffed walls and sex toys lie glistening in a box.  As Czech George continues to manipulate his generous girth into seemingly impossible positions, the guests start to dwindle. I last as long as I can before exiting late into the night for the last tube home and try to remember why exactly, I was invited along.

11th It’s my daughters school sports day and I have volunteered to count the number of sideways jumps each competitor completes over a low lying metal bar; Rory is up next, he doesn’t do very well.

12th It’s 26˚C in Crouch End Priory Park and I’m enjoying playing hoopla with my daughter. Three recently emptied beer cans provide the target for the hoops. Grace suggests it would be a good idea to play ten pin bowling using a tennis ball; I concur and pop to the shop for seven more cans to empty before the game can begin.

16th A few years ago, I sped-read an email received from a man asking if I wanted to photograph him for a project and that he was happy to be naked for the occasion. I didn’t want to photograph a naked man and moved what I assumed was spam email quickly into the trash. The Tim Andrew’s project, Over the Hill; a Photographic Journey, has now had over 300 photographers contributing a portrait of Tim, who is degenerating from Parkinson’s disease. Work from the archive has been published in a plethora of respected publications, blogged countless times online, exhibited in galleries across the UK and featured on BBC2 televisions, The Culture Show. Today I set off for Tim’s home in Brighton; the plan is for  a spot of lunch to chat things through, shoot some pictures then celebrate afterwards in the pub. Arriving at Tim’s, I’m given a glass of water and informed the trip to the pub is cancelled as the scaffolders are due to start work in an hour. I get out my camera and ask Tim to take off his shirt.

A version of this feature first appeared in issue 4 volume 2 of Hungry Eye magazine, available to purchase here

My 2nd visual monograph, Alcohol and England, is available to purchase here 

  • Hardcover: 156 pages
  • Publisher: The Bluecoat Press (23 Oct 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1908457236
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908457233
  • Product Dimensions: 29 x 1.8 x 27 cm