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 canapés.

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

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