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

 
March

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.

April

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.

May

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.



June

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

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