Friday, 20 March 2015

Dench Diary : July - Novemer 2014

July 2014

27th “What do you do for a job Peter?” It’s an interesting question and I’m not sure of the answer. My business card says photographer but I haven’t had too many photographic assignments this month. Gallerist? Operating as Co-Creative Director at White Cloth Gallery is a daily commitment but it doesn’t feel like a job that defines me. Writer? At the moment, in terms of income generated, that would be the most accurate but if I say that to my inquisitor, they may ask: “what do you write about?” and I’d have to say, “I write about myself mostly” and that would make me sound like a dick. I don’t want to sound like a dick in front of this pouting crimson beauty. An uncomfortable amount of time has passed. “I just do bits and bobs really.” She turns away towards the bar of The Alex and I turn back to my pint.

29th I read a report that heavy social drinkers are at increased risk of liver disease. I do most of my heavy drinking alone so should be OK?


3rd I show my daughter a role of transparency slide film that she studies with curiosity. In another few years, I think she’ll look at a Sunday newspaper magazine supplement in the same way. A recent conversation I had with a public relations expert, they explained that online bloggers were more beneficial to business than print reporters.

©Peter Dench

9th It’s the Dench family summer holiday and the destination is Oslo, Norway. I’m thinking of relocating to Oslo; my wife says she’d feel comfortable and my daughter Grace, although admitting she’d miss her best friend Poppy, is generally OK with the idea. I roll the possibility around my head as my eyes rove over the six packs of Norwegian white beer. I opt for the White Dog wheat beer and place it into my basket alongside the charcuterie. At the checkout, I’m informed no alcohol can be served after 6pm on a Saturday. It’s 6.05pm (5.05pm in the UK). The Dench family will not be moving to this barbaric country of fluffy-jumper-wearing-whale-killers.

16th Former England footballer and Tottenham Hotspur legend, Gary Mabbutt, deftly flicks the ball towards former captain of the Netherlands national team and 1988 UEFA European Championship victor, Ruud Gullit, who controls it on his chest before playing a neat low pass to Holy Trinity Junior School football league winner and vice captain of Weymouth Grammar School, Peter Dench, who toe-pokes it back to Mabbutt. On the 18th July, 2007, after a penetratingly cold boat ride through nose-dripping sea fog, I arrived on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned. I was part of a FIFA contingent visiting the island ahead of a special 90 minutes for Mandela football match to be played at the Newlands Stadium, Cape Town, South Africa in the evening, honouring Nelson Mandela’s 89th birthday; Mabbutt and Gullit would play in a Rest of the World XI against an African XI. We’d toured the prison together; chatted to some former inmates and had our photograph taken with the most decorated African player of all time, Samuel Eto'o, before a glorious and spontaneous kick about broke out in the grounds of the prison against a backdrop of razor wire and guard towers. It’s a memory firmly embedded in my top 10 football highlights of all-time and one I’m reminding Gullit of as he prepares for punditry alongside Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker for tonight’s BBC Match of the Day programme. I’m on set shooting a behind-the-scenes reportage for the Telegraph Magazine in the shows 50th anniversary year. Gullit has no idea who I am and only a vague idea of what I’m talking about. 

 ©Peter Dench/Getty Images Reportage

21st “You’ve lost weight.” I didn’t know I’d gained weight. “Your face doesn’t look so flabby.” I didn’t know my face had become flabby. In between ego checks from my mother, I’m dipping into her box of old family photographs and pulling out a handful to show Grace. There’s one of me at my sisters wedding, dressed in borrowed clothes after I spent the £150 my mother had given me to buy a new outfit on 170 cans of Tennent’s lager. There’s one from an early 1980’s Christmas morning; my sister is holding a ghetto blaster and I hold up my first computer, an Acorn Electron (the budget version of the more poplar BBC computer preferred in classrooms); a third photograph, from 1982, shows my sister and I sharing a yellow Pac Man game which was to be played “in the breakfast room only” as it was too noisy for the lounge. Grace is thrilled to be witnessing these prompts from the past and I make a decision to be more disciplined in printing out digital files for her own box of tangible childhood memories.

 ©Peter Dench

28th I’ve been invited as a take-over guest for the @telegraphtelephoto Instagram feed. Five to ten photographs are to be posted over a three-day period. It sounds like a challenge and one I choose to take seriously. I’ve not got much on this week so opt to produce a sequence of images about Crouch End, the area of north London in which I live. I post a photograph of ‘cardboard cut out Dench’ in bed (38 likes), unloading the food shopping (26 likes) and cleaning the living room (35 likes). I Instagram a rainbow over The Alex (41 likes); a cricket match (37 likes); my tubby tennis partner Johnny (13 likes) and a spilt fast food drink on the seat of a number 29 bus to Camden (45 likes). Struggling to fill my quota, I grab a routine shot of a Maserati sports car parked at the end of my street. It’s parked there most days, more a weekend drive for it’s owner who prefers a silver Porsche convertible as their daily run-around. I choose the Inkwell filter with white border and give it a bit of linear tilt and shift (146 likes).

©Peter Dench


7th “Girls. Remember; do not stand with your legs open. EVER!” I’ve decided to add to my photo-series on the UK and am investigating the world of male and female natural fitness competitors. I'm at a pre-competition boot camp hosted by champion Ms Bikini athlete, Emma Louise Burrows at her studio in Debden. She is helping clients show off what they have achieved in the gym with grace and style ahead of the 2014 Musclemania British Championship.

13th It’s the day of the Musclemania British Championship and I’m maneuvering with caution around the male dressing rooms located in the basement of The Shaw Theatre; it’s a squashed and sweaty affair of nearly naked men rubbing, rehearsing, flexing. I pull out my notebook and bright pink pen, make a mental note not to use a bright pink pen in future, open my notebook and write: ‘Revise project to FEMALE natural fitness competitors.’

©Peter Dench/Getty Images Reportage

16th Channel 4 News presenter, Jon Snow, is stood next to a boxing ring wearing his trademark colourful tie, pontificating on the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence. He turns away from the gathered crowd to deliver a piece to camera: “The prospect of a border is causing many on the southern side to reassess what it actually means to be not British but English. We’ve been out in the sun in Southend enjoying that very English thing, the seaside, with photographer, Peter Dench, who has spent his career capturing Englishness. This is his take on our national identity.” On Friday, I had indeed spend the day in Southend with a news crew, delivering from memory around 600 words to camera at various locations along the promenade. The feature was edited and ready for broadcast on the Monday; then bumped on to Tuesday’s running order. The only occurrence that could have scuppered my appearance, was the Queen’s death or perhaps the discovery of Madeleine McCann; I would acquiesce to both. Two minutes after Snow’s introduction, my television presenter debut is over.

25th I push a digit towards the door bell on the unassuming suburban north London house and press. A beautiful woman wrapped amongst folds of soft clothing asks me inside. We sit in the kitchen and chat about Poland, the land of her father. She asks; “Would you like me to put on my bikini?” I ask; “Could you put on the skimpy blue one with the sparkly fastenings?” She does and I begin to photograph Kaz, stood in the lounge and garden with her third place trophy in the Bikini Figure Category achieved at her first competitive fitness competition; the 2014 Muslcemania British Championships.

©Peter Dench/Getty Images Reportage

30th After three challenging, inspiring and engaging years, I am no longer involved with White Cloth Gallery in any capacity. The vision for taking the business forward became increasingly contrary with that of the investors and all parties have made a clean break to explore new opportunities. To everyone who exhibited, visited and supported the enterprise during my tenure as Co-Creative Director; THANK YOU.


4th My wife gently takes the hand of another man and disappears through an open door. I stand fixed, emasculated, waves of nausea ripple along my length. I imagine David Murphy (played by Woody Harrelson) must have felt the same as he witnessed his wife Diana (Demi Moore) leave to spend a night with John Cage (Robert Redford) for an agreed fee of one million dollars. I feel even more nauseous when the the pin-prick of an airplane is heard passing overhead and they plummet together from over 10,000 feet into a big blue sky. During our 19-year relationship, my wife had repeatedly commented: “I’d like to do a skydive.” “I’d like to do a skydive.” “I’d like to do a skydive.” It didn’t seem such an Indecent Proposal, so for her 40th birthday, I bought her one.

©Peter Dench

17th Our house rabbit, Carrots, bites clean through the live wire of our vacuum cleaner as my wife is cleaning his cage; around 240 volts shoot through his teeth and gums and exit via his left ear, leaving a singed crop of whiskers. I rush the remarkably-still-alive Carrots to the vet; the bill is £38. My wife rushes the vacuum cleaner to the repair shop; the bill is £38.

©Peter Dench

23rd The Hospital Club is a private members’ club and centre for London’s creative community. I’m sat in the bar discussing television and film documentary proposals. “Peter, what sort of television presenter would you describe yourself as?” It’s not a question I ever thought I’d be asked and consider it carefully, the answer could open doors, bestow riches. “I take less drugs than Hunter S. Thompson; am less posh than Louis Theroux and probably more affordable than Martin Parr.” There is the sound of no doors opening.

25th Sitting in bed, wandering what to do on a Saturday without the family, I check Twitter for inspiration. A Tweet announces AFC Bournemouth football fans can pay cash on the turnstile at today's away fixture at Birmingham City. I check the watch; roll out of the feather; pull on some Fila branded clobber and take the rattler from Euston Station. Two-and-a-half hours later I’m in the stands watching my team record their biggest league away win ever, 0-8. The last time I travelled to Birmingham City away, rocks were thrown through the windows of the coach in which I was travelling and the toilet in the away end had no roof; it was raining heavily. It’s been an emotional day but I decide not to cry, and to stop watching Danny Dyer inspired films about football hooliganism, or to try and get myself work as an extra in one.

©Peter Dench

29th With the absence of White Cloth Gallery income I’ve asked Getty Images if I can shoot for the wire; I’ve never shot for the Getty Images wire before and like the sound of it - immediate and real, - operating like a proper snapper. Today is my first attempt and I peer up into a grey north London sky; button on a grey shirt and stride into Central Hall Westminster and a dimly lit room of flapping grey suits. During Serbian Investment Day, I photograph individual speakers and panel discussions on topics such as: Doing business in Serbia; A practical guide. Promoting export and bilateral economic partnerships between UK and Serbia and Truth and Myth; The realities of doing business in Serbia. At the evening drinks reception, I’m reliably informed the BBC Television sitcom, Only Fools and Horses, is very popular among Serbians.


1st The relentless pursuit of material for my FitnessUK reportage continues; this Halloween weekend, I’m off to [creepy] Crawley and The Hawth Theatre, venue for the Miss Galaxy Universe competition. The atmosphere backstage is intense as the announcements for the accolades begin, including, among others: Most Curvaceous; Yummy Mummy; Miss Monroe International; Best Newcomer; Most Inspiring; Overall Fitness Champion and my favourite - Best Behind.

©Peter Dench

5th Ebola; a virus disease that is indiscriminately exterminating thousands of people and contaminating thousands more in west Africa. Cases are being reported in Europe and across the globe. These are worrying times; cautious, considered international travel is advised. You wont catch me putting myself or my family at unnecessary risk. The first plane I board since confirmation the outbreak is back to Oslo and it’s ice cool climate, to meet up with friend and photographer, Marcus Bleasdale. Arriving at his home, I cork a cheeky bottle of Languedoc-Roussillon wine and ask what he’s been up to? “Extensively covering the crisis in the Central African Republic and related issues across the border.”

13th Tonight is the launch of my second visual monograph, A&E: Alcohol & England at The Photographers’ Gallery, London and collect cardboard cut out Dench to accompany me for the trip.

You can complete a hat-trick of my publications on Britishness by pre ordering The British Abroad  hardback photo book via Kickstarter [until 5th April : free UK shipping : £10 worldwide]

A version of this feature first appeared in Issue 1 Volume 3 of Hungry Eye available to purchase here