Thursday, 23 March 2017

DENCH DIARY : February - June 2016

February 2016

15th. Bed. Bus. Tube. Train. Plane. Taxi. Train. Taxi. Shoot. Taxi. Train. 30 minute walk. Bed. Taxi. Shoot. Taxi. Plane. Train. Tube. Bus. Bed. It’s day 12 of a 25 day shoot for the Ford Motor company's Keep It Real campaign and the day isn’t unusual. The campaign documents the sometimes extraordinary connections ordinary people across Europe share with the blue oval. From people who rely on a Ford to do their job, or to help them put a smile on other people’s faces, to those who have an undying passion for their cars. People like Luca Sessa, who rustles me up an antipasti dish of peppers, capers, olive oil, salt, garlic at his apartment in Rome. People like Dirk and Trudy Regter who have driven their Model T from their home in Holland around the globe. People like Guilia Dalle Fratte, who loves her Mk1 Focus RS so much, she has the shoes to match and people like Fabrizio Schenardi, who celebrated the day he bought a Mustang by getting an accompanying tattoo.

©Peter Dench/Verbatim


4th My wife is stood naked trembling at the top of the stairs barely able to dial in my phone number.   She has instructed our daughter Grace to stay in her bedroom with the door shut. “Pete. I think someone’s trying to break in.” I’d left for the airport at daybreak and am just about to pass through customs. An attempted break in seems unlikely. I ask if perhaps one of our book shelves has collapsed in the lounge. It had not. I remember seeing our neighbours light on as I left. Ah. Keith! The hermetic man prone to erratic outbursts. “It’s probably Keith” I tell my wife. “Leave a note for him suggesting someone tried to break in and I’ll report it to the police when I get home tomorrow.” She leaves a note. Keith comes round to say it’s not necessary to report it to the police as it was him trashing his own home in protest at the night-time thumps of of our house rabbit, Carrots. He explains that he didn’t come out of his flat for fear of what he might do. I consider reporting Keith to the police for threatening and abusive behaviour.

21st At the 2015 Photography Show, I squatted on the corner of the Hungry Eye stand trying to flog a few books. At the Photography Show 2016, I present to a crowd of 100s from the Super Stage in a line up of luminaries including Bruce Gilden and David Bailey. After a congratulatory selfie with (in my mind) new bestie, Lara Jade, I celebrate on the train home with a 12 hour old egg sandwich and bottle of Magners cider.


8th I’m sat next to a radio playing the Alan Walker track, Faded: “You were the shadow to my light. Did you feel us. Another start. You fade away. Afraid our aim is out of sight. Wanna see us. Alive. Where are you now? Where are you now? Where are you now?” I’ll tell you where I am. I’m in the chemotherapy unit at The Whittington Hospital in Archway, north London watching my wife being pumped with enough fluids to burst a beach ball. It’s round two of six chemotherapy sessions and she’s feeling emotional. I’m feeling emotional. I snap a photo on my phone and check for an accompanying emoji. A CHEMOJI !?

28th I have an idea for a cartoon strip character and contact popular British comic VIZ. The character is called Casual Ron. Each episode begins with Ron zipping up his too tight Fila tracksuit top and heading out for the day. Ron can only communicate using football chants. Suggested episodes include: “Is this a library?” Ron is on a quest to find something to read. “You’re going home in a Yorkshire ambulance”. Ron helps an elderly woman he finds in distress and “You’re not singing anymore”. Ron breaks the news to his nephew that he’s been left out of the school choir. I press send.


2nd Riaz Khan, a 50-year-old former football hooligan (turned teacher) stares at the large TV screen mounted on the wall of a Shisha Lounge in Leicester City centre and sucks hard from the pipe on the table in front of him as Tottenham Hotspur storm to a two nil first half lead against Chelsea being played at Stamford Bridge in London. “That’s it then” he mutters and heads of to the toilet. Anything less than a Tottenham victory would crown Leicester City, the club Khan has supported since a boy, champions of England for the first time in their 132 year history. Khan returns from the toilet and slams his formidable frame back into his seat. I’ve been in Leicester for several days capturing the multi cultural flavour of the city for American sports website, ESPN. If Tottenham win, I’ll have to remain in Leicester for the seasons conclusion five days later. I don’t want to remain in Leicester, I want to get back to London. Chelsea, buoyed by the introduction of Eden Hazard at half time, are back in the game thanks to Gary Cahill’s 58th minute strike. Khan exhales deeply. Seven minutes from time, Hazard scores his first home goal of the year handing Leicester City an historic title. Khan, the Silverback in the bar, springs to his Kickers clad feet, whips on his Stone Island jacket and roars his entourage onto the Leicester streets in celebration.

16th - 22nd Begin an assignment for STERN Magazine on BREXIT, the forthcoming UK EU referendum. Destination one is Romford, the party of the country most keen on voting OUT.

24th Packing for parts two and three of the reportage, Dench Eye on America, (Dallas being part one, completed in July 2015), I decide not to take Khan’s book, Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual, with a photo of Khan giving the V sign with his fingers on the front cover and a current photo of him with a shaved head and full beard on the back. Instead I pack, Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber, a descriptive, steamy tale of Miami.

25th - 31st Miami is wet. More water falls on the city than is used in the waterboarding of illegally detained suspect terrorists across the whole of America. The Atlantic ocean is to the east of Miami, The Gulf of Mexico to the West, and The Everglades National Park in the middle. The Everglades is a large tropical wilderness, the largest wilderness of any kind east of the Mississippi River and is visited on average by one million people each year. It is the third-largest national park in the lower 48 states after Death Valley and Yellowstone. It has been declared an International Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, and a Wetland of International Importance, one of only three locations in the world to appear on all three lists. It’s home to over 350 species of birds, around 1.5 million alligators and the elusive Florida Panther. It’s also intensely boring. On an airboat tour through the ‘river of grass’, I see one pair of alligator ears, get roasted by the sun and bitten by a mosquito. Halfway through, I eat the cheese sandwich I brought along, pull down my cap and reflect on a week in the city of Vice. I’ve witnessed ex US Marines flexing their muscles on South Beach and New Jersey girls sipping sugary cocktails from super-sized cups. I’ve chuffed on a fat Cohiba cigar in Little Havana and been advised to put my camera away in Little Haiti (I didn’t enjoy Big Haiti, why I thought the reduced version would be any better I have no idea). I pop along to the Black Men of Florida 5K charity run at Miami zoo and attend a memorial day service at the All Wars Memorial Park where BJ Chiszar, a war veteran, hands me a flyer, “BJ for Mayor",  he shouts. Some people will do anything for power. I photograph across Overtown (a neighbourhood originally called Coloured Town and the historic centre for commerce in the black community) and I get Twerk fatigue capturing waves of rippling buttocks at a pool party in the suburban city of Sweetwater.


1st The old adage about London is, you’re never more than 6ft away from a rat. In San Francisco (SF), the same is true of a hobo (a migratory worker or homeless vagabond, especially one who is impoverished). You can’t sit down on a bench in SF as there’s a hobo sleeping on it. You can’t wait in a bus shelter in SF as there’s a hobo living in it. You can’t photograph a landmark without a hobo strung out across it. Children can’t use the slide in the playground as there’s a hobo at the bottom of it. My first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge is it arcing over an hobo. Outside the Civic Centre, I count 36 hobos in makeshift homes. At each road junction, a hobo holds a written message of despair on a piece of cardboard. You don’t use ‘jumpers for goalposts’ in SF, you use hobos. Walking through the Tenderloin district, en route to the Little Saigon Larkin Street festival, I witness a hobo defecating onto the grate of a drain in the gutter and a hobo fall backwards down some concrete steps. A syringe drops from the backside of one hobo and kicked away, coming to rest against my Adidas SL 72’s (in blue). Why would anyone want to escape from Alcatraz if the first place you reach is SF. The only fully restored Nike missile site in America (over 300 of these sites were designed as the last line of defence against Soviet bombers) overlooks SF. It was restored as the last line of defence against a potential hobo uprising. It comes as no surprise to learn, photographer Pieter Hugo, whose work often deals with marginalised groups of people, has shot a series of portraits in Tenderloin.

7th ‘How DARE you cut HIS Penis!’ reads the sign held up high by Dominic Benton Beard. ‘DON’T CUT YOUR SON’, reads another. A woman holding two baby dolls, smeared with fake blood  (I assume) patrols the nearby sidewalk. The mission of ‘Intactivists’ like Benton Beard, is the protection of children from forced genital cutting, especially focused on protecting infant boys. I thank Benton Beard for the flyer and board the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train to The University of California, Berkeley. The delightfully fresh, English major, Jamie, is to be my guide. Jamie proudly enunciates that 99 Olympic gold medallists have been Berkeley alma maters; Berkeley has 47 libraries and the largest Japanese map collection in the world (outside of Japan); 16 elements on the periodic table were discovered at Berkeley; the campus has it’s own police force, hosts an organic farmers market and the basketball stadium, has 12,000 seats, that’s around 800 more than the English premier league football team I support. During a break in her infectious chatter I Google - ‘notable University of Derby alumni’. My name comes up which says it all really.

8th On my final day in the SF, a suited city worker walking in the other direction elbows past. “Watch where you’re walking bro!” he says. I swivel on my heels and thrust out my middle finger. “F**K YOU MAN!!!!!” It’s totally out of character for me, but completely in character with the city.

16th I receive a reply from VIZ  Comic regarding my Casual Ron idea. ‘Hi Peter, Thanks for sending this. I've passed it on to the editors but they don't want to use this particular idea’. Pfff! I zip up my too tight Fila tracksuit top and chant on out into Crouch end to watch the England V Wales European Championship footy match.

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

All my books can be purchased here

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

DENCH DIARY : September 2015 - January 2016

September 2015

17th  It’s freshers week at Sussex University and I’m on Brighton Pier shooting an assignment for the Sunday Times Magazine (STM). I’m not sure what I’m doing and feel pessimistic for the future. Not unlike my first week at university.

©Peter Dench/Verbatim

18th “Bollards” Shouts the man, through a bollard, stood outside the cinema on West Street in Brighton. “Bollards” I shout back, arms aloft and swerve into the Bright Helm Wetherspoon, an ‘unfussy modern pub with big windows, for British ales, TV news, free WiFi and all-day dining’. It’s 9am and there’s not much dining. I order a pint of cider. Technically I’m still on a night out, just the night isn’t long enough to facilitate the drinks I need, which is why I usually start drinking in the afternoon. A man talks to the barmaid about his mate Jim. Jim buys old fruit machines, takes them apart, figures them out then wins big on them in Casinos and on Ferries. I like the sound of Jim. Jim’s also just bought a monkey. The barmaid hands me my pint and I take a seat at the window and watch the Japanese rugby world cup squad saunter past and  a man jet wash the Cheeky Chicken sign opposite.


7th The man in front of my lens in studio two at Shoreditch Studios in east London is animated. He jumps, hops, slaps his head and yanks his pony tail. He runs on the spot and skips left and right. Studio shoots can be tricky to build a momentum and capture the character of an individual. Today was not one of those shoots. The man is Terry Gilliam, my new favourite member of surreal comedy group, Monty Python.

©Peter Dench/Verbatim

11th The STM publishes the feature on freshers week. ‘UNIVERSITY OF SEX’ has nine of my pictures inside accompanying the eight page feature written by Katie Glass. I’ve been contributing to the STM for 15 years and delighted to have my first photo on the cover. The photograph features striking University of Sussex fashion student, Sophie, a cigarette dangles from her pink lips. I know she’s called Sophie because we had a long chat and good fun taking a variety of photographs with different poses. In the photograph they chose for the cover, Sophie is wearing an ‘I Heart Consent T-Shirt’. The T-Shirt slogan is part of a campaign that aims to tackle myths, misunderstandings and problematic perspectives about rape, sexual consent and sexual harassment, and educate Sussex students on these issues. The STM forward several emails regarding the freshers feature. One is from the mother of Sophie, she's not complaining, more that apparently Sophie can't remember having her photo taken.

©Peter Dench/Verbatim

20th It’s the exhibition and book launch of Dench Does Dallas at the Art Bermondsey Project Space in London sponsored by Olympus. It’s my first solo exhibition and features 57 mounted prints ranging from size A3 to A0, a framed replica front page of The Dallas Morning News with the headline KENNEDY SLAIN ON DALLAS STREET and a wall mounted 3D mouse pad featuring Twin Peaks girl, Kelsey. The mouse pad peaks don’t squeak. (Twin Peaks is a chain of sports bars and Breastaurants known for having its waitresses dress in revealing uniforms).

Here is what I learned from my first solo exhibition launch.

1. Turn up. I’m surprised at how let down I felt by people who didn’t turn up.

2. If you click ‘going’ on Facebook and decide not to go, click ‘not going’ on Facebook.

3. If you do turn up, buy the book and have it signed, it’s what a book signing is for. Please don’t call a week later asking to meet and if I have a spare signed book I can bring along.

4. Don’t get so wasted on white wine that you spill a bottle over the table of limited edition hardback books, even if you do write for one of Britain’s premier photography magazines.

5. Do not lean on the prints on the wall or touch them with your fingers after eating canap├ęs.

21st I suspect there must have been a college trip to the Hull International Photography Festival (HIPFest) where I have an exhibition of my reportage, The British Abroad. I suspect this as I have a  sequence of emails from university students plop into my inbox:

Dear Mr. Dench, I have recently visited your exhibition and I am studying photography and I am looking at your work (were they in the pool and standing around); I say that because the images I have looked at are untitled. I was wondering if you would be able to tell me what equipment and techniques you used to take this photo and which one you preferred out of all the ones you took in this collection and is your work candid or posed? From the research I've seen some of the images are 15 years old? I am really sorry if I came across rude about the photo that was not my intention. I really like your work and I am looking forward to see more of what you have done. Thank you, Yours truly, XX

Dear Mr Dench, I am studying your series 'The British Abroad' for a college project and I was wondering what inspired you to create the photos? Also if you don't mind me asking, what camera did you use and what kind of techniques and equipment did you use? Thank you very much.
Yours truly, XX

Dear Mr. Dench, I’ve been looking at and into your work The British Abroad for a college project, I’m currently studying Photography and I was wondering if I could ask you a couple questions? According to my research on the Internet your pictures were made for The Daily Telegraph over 15 years ago so I was wondering what’s possessed you to finally make it into a book? Were the images you’ve taken candid or posed? What equipment did you use, such as camera, tripods, etc?
What techniques and materials did you use? Respectfully XX

I answer each email explaining the equipment that I used, that the work was shot between 2012 and 2013, it wasn’t shot for the Daily Telegraph, what possessed me to publish a book and suggest their research needs to be more thorough.

23rd An old college friend gets in touch via Facebook. “Hello Pete, it’s your old college friend contacting you via Facebook” (I told you). “How are you? I’m really great and finally made my fortune, sold my business and have retired to Spain. I’m married with two great kids and spend most days driving the car around that I said I’d always own one day. Can you remember what car it is? Be great to hear what your up to. Jason.” I can’t remember the car that got me home last night and only vaguely remember Jason. I crack open a can of Strongbow, sit back, sup and have a think. I last remember meeting Jason the night boxer Frank Bruno was first defeated (in 1989) by Mike Tyson (who was also a boxer). On my walk home from watching the fight on TV at Jason’s house, I remember admiring a black Ford Capri with tinted windows parked on the street. “Hi Jason”. I reply via Facebook, three cans and a bag of Twiglets later. “Is it a Black Ford Capri with tinted windows?” Jason doesn’t respond.


1st An additional air freshener has appeared in the toilet at home. I’ve been depressing the Dettol neutral air revitalising fresh breeze for years. It kills odour causing bacteria at the source. I’d recommend not applying it direct to the source but into the air. Seems my wife doesn’t like the smell of neutral air (for true freshness) and has added to the shelf, a Marks & Spencer Rose and Bay room mist with a fragrance of, well, rose and bay (to infuse delicate aromas). After this mornings flush I give the Rose and Bay a squirt. I don’t like it. Everyones s**t may smell the same but the after odour doesn’t have to.

10th I receive an email from an university student:

Hi Peter Dench. It’s XX, I just texted you and received your reply to email you. I hope I'm not taking up too much of your trouble. I am looking at England Uncensored at the moment and I was just wondering what influenced you to create these images? Are there any other photographers or other things that influenced you and gave you the idea to take these images? is there an idea behind these images and also what camera did you use to create these images and were they edited in any way? Hope this is not too much for you! I really appreciate you getting back to me so fast. Fangirling a lot about you right now!

I nearly spill my Rioja and carefully re-read the last sentence. Fangirling, it transpires, simply means ‘a big fan’. I’m relieved.


3rd “What is the point of you? You never have any visitors, so I doubt you’re a good friend. I’m assuming you’re not a secret philanthropist and you’re not a very nice neighbour. I’ve witnessed many tragedies and extreme suffering in my life, but you Keith, are perhaps the most tragic of them all.” Is what I want to say to say to my neighbour, Keith, who is complaining about our house rabbit, Carrots, whose thumping on the floor woke him up during the night.

The previous week Keith had left a scrawled note outside my door. I’ve decided to collect Keith’s notes:

“Hi. My rucksack got caught in the bike and when I tried to free it, goodness knows what happened (obviously it was behind me) but I put the bike back. I don’t think the hall is wide enough to accommodate the bike. Keith”

The bike has been accommodated in the hall for nine years. I hop on the saddle and pop out to get Keith some earplugs.

26th Boxing Day. The plan is to eat Quality Street sweets, drink Baileys Irish Cream liquor and watch the sport on TV. There’s a problem. The rain has swelled the nearby river and the river has burst its banks. There’s river water in the street outside and a press photographer wearing waders, I give him a wave. It’s 9am. By 3pm, my mother-in-laws lounge is shin high with river water and the house around the corner is on fire. We decide to evacuate. Church volunteers load us up with bacon sandwiches and a local man from up the road offers me his estate car for “whatever purpose you require”. I consider driving back to London.

January 2016

8th I wake up from my afternoon nap to discover the government has announced tough new guidelines on alcohol and have cut the recommended daily amount by half adding ‘there’s no such thing as a safe level of drinking’. I check to see if there’s any mention about the safety of afternoon naps.

13th I’m made Director of a new business venture, The Curators, a bespoke service sourcing, curating, installing and touring artwork by the most acclaimed established and up-and-coming artists, photographers and film makers in public, corporate and private spaces worldwide.

21st I begin the biggest commercial photographic assignment of my career to date, a 26 day Europe-wide reportage.

26th I learn that my wife has cancer; we’re advised by the surgeon it’s “small, treatable and early”. Words to hold on to…

A version of this feature first appeared in issue 1 volume 4 of Hungry Eye magazine available to purchase here

All my books can be purchased here