I’ve always wanted to be on a panel. I pout my lips around the word 'panel'. I think of television programmes: QI, Mock the Week and Question Time. Tonight I am on a panel and have been emailed nine questions for my urgent attention. I arrive early at the West London venue and asses the space. It’s intimate. There’s a table and microphone to accommodate two other experts: Ben Schneider from @radical.media and David Gryn from Artprojx. Our host informs me Ben will not be able to make it; more of the limelight for me. At 8pm the questions begin, the audience total is four. One leaves half way through. “Question nine to Peter, what is the most important advice you give to those starting out in your field?” “Not to get excited being invited onto a panel.”
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23rd A seven-year old boy is punching me repeatedly in the face. I slug some port in between pummels. A younger child has just s**t himself for the second time. A woman approaching 50 dances in a tight Ted Baker dress to Maroon 5’s Moves Like Jagger. With each “Woohoohwoohoohwaahooh” it hitches higher. Truth is I’m rather enjoying myself. At an earlier parents' Christmas drinks and nibbles, I’d sat through a 30-minute conversation about Magnus Scheving; the actor who plays Sportacus - a fictional character from the children’s television show LazyTown. The show also featured the character Stephanie, played by Julianna Rose Mauriello. She has pink hair and always ends the show performing a song and dance routine to Bing Bang. I take the opportunity in a lull in facial jabs to grab my wife and coat, duck a flung jar of Nutella and blunder into sideways rain. With a cherry vodka nightcap, I type into Google, "Julianna, LazyTown", and am delighted to discover she’s blossomed into a rather lovely 20-year old woman. “Bing Bang Diggly Dong!”
26th Assessing the throng for the person least likely to talk to me, I choose Ian and plop down alongside him. Ian explains that daytime television is for idiots and a good enough reason not to leave the job you’re in. I poke a Hula Hoop from the mixed bowl of flavours onto my index finger. It’s beef. “Be careful, don’t forget where the Hula Hoop ends and your finger begins... HA HA HA!” I crunch away Ian’s warning and head into the lounge. It’s Boxing Day drinks at the parents, family and friends of my brother-in-law. Slack-jawed kids in slack-waisted jeans hold mumbled conversations. Teenage girls suck their hair and chuck back pear-flavoured cider. Barely-together couples compete in their annual 'gin-a-thon'. Overweight aunts chatter; flapping into their mouths ham and turkey from the cold meat platter. Skype is set up to converse cheaply with far away family; family who were barely spoken to when in the same room. Gifts of chutney and knives are waved at the screen. I reach for a bottle of home made damson whisky and plop down alongside Ian, who has come in to watch 50 Greatest Harry Potter Moments on television.
30th For Christmas my wife bought me a yoga mat and DVD. When I mentioned I admired footballer Ryan Giggs' stamina, that wasn’t what I meant. As I creak towards 40, I give the morning yoga 17-minute workout a try; Rodney will be my guide. As a the sun rises from the sea over Rodder’s sculpted body into a Cokin-filtered sky, I unroll my mat and stare through the sticky finger prints on the window, into a bleak North London. It’s quite tricky trying to watch Rodney’s moves on television lying flat on your back. A few minutes in I’m required to use a strap and quickly fondle it from the box. Then I need to sit on a blanket, so whip down a cushion instead. I arch into a Cobra pose, squat into the Supported Chair pose, do the Downward Dog, visualize my soft throat, soft belly and release my inner groin; my body sounds like cracking walnuts. By the two-minute meditation period at the end, I’ve half a dozen Christmas tree pine needles embedded in my arm and a Sugar Puff stuck to my leg. Turning off the DVD player, the television flicks on to Celebrity Family Fortunes featuring super hot Hollyoaks babe, Jennifer Metcalfe. I release my outer groin.
1st No wander I feel so young. I can only remember half my life. In an attempt to remember, I take myself to The Maynard (The Villiers Terrace is closed) for my annual New Years Day review and awards ceremony. I’m delighted to receive ‘Employee of the Year’ and ‘Most Improved Employee of the Year’; and to be named ‘Employee Most Likely to Succeed’. Looking back over the year between pints of Aspall, highlights include being involved in the FORMAT, Visa pour l’Image and Periscopio festivals; foreign assignments to Italy and Jamaica; photographing backstage at Miss Leeds and the Royal Wedding; surpassing 1,500 Twitter followers; watching Laureanne have a spray tan; the launch of Lethal Bizzle’s DENCH clothing range; and the opening of a Wetherspoon pub in Crouch End. Lowlights include having no pictures published from shooting the Royal Wedding; being away for the London riots; and saying farewell to Tim Hetherington. Checking the diary for 2012, I’m booked in for a workshop in April and a talk for the Muswell Hill camera club in October The fee: £50 and all the booze I can eat. I unfold the piece of squared paper on which last years resolution is scribbled. It reads: “Drink less, work more.” I screw it into a tight ball and flick it hard across the bar into the trash.
6th An unsolicited stranger has created a page about me on Wikipedia.
7th I have been marked for deletion from Wikipedia for not being notable enough.
11th To save money, in a cull of direct debits I cancel my life insurance. Now I can’t even afford to die.
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12th Men with perfectly clipped beards posture with indifference. Different-shaped women without beards are bounced out the way. I’m whisking my way to the bar at the Ewen Spencer book launch - Three’s A Crowd Vol II - at the KK Outlet in Hoxton, London, past the prints featuring rock band The White Stripes, where I spend the evening tucking into the Red Stripes.
14th The Wikipedia 'wigbigs' have been mass debating. The votes are in and I get to stay.
18th I am on a panel. I pout my lips around the word 'panel'. The London Festival of Photography have asked me to join a conversation revealing how notions of psycho-geography and philosophies of urban life has influenced my work on the streets of London. Also having a chat will be photographer John Angerson and editors of Restless Cities, Mathew Beaumont and Gregory Dart. The book is a collection of writings by eminent authors which attempts to trace the idiosyncratic character of the modern city. The venue is sold out.
19th I haven’t been paid for three months. The optimism and hope for the year has been ripped from my stomach, jammed through a mincer and fed to the dog; if I could afford a dog. I check the bank balance; I have an unauthorized overdraft of -84p. I bag up £2 of 2p’s from the copper pot and head to the bank. On the way I notice the hardware store is having a sale: ‘Mops £1.50’. I could do with a mop. At the bank I’m too embarrassed to confront a cashier and wait for a queue to develop before dumping the coins into the rapid deposit box. Back home a credit card company calls to query an overdue payment. I make a nominal payment of £1. I am broke. Projects have stalled; too-expensive-to-get-to meetings re-scheduled. It’s time to leave the country. Before Christmas I bought the family flights to Norway. I’d hoped to supplement them with some spending money; 16p was not the target. I bundle my daughter, wife and her credit card onto the bus and head to Gatwick Airport and on to the snow-slapped house of Marcus Bleasdale.
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25th “Hello! I’m Peter Dench, Creative Director at White Cloth Gallery; an exciting new film and photography events space opening on the 19th April, 2012, in Leeds, UK.” Today, the WCG team has a meeting at the National Media Museum, to absorb its expertise. As the meeting unfolds, I realise being involved in a gallery is less about the art and more about lighting lux intensity and microwatts per lumen maximums; fire extinguishers (carbon dioxide is best); security, licensing and copyright issues.
26th The 'i's have been dotted and the dotted line signed upon. I’m in. The journey of a freelance photojournalist is a long and adventurous one and you’re never sure where it will lead; the Magnum Photo Agency or Snappy Snaps? Along the journey you of course make friends, allies, enemies; you begin to understand your own needs and capabilities and where you might fit in. I’ve been freelance for 13 years; for five of them I was with the prestigious Independent Photographers Group that included Zed Nelson, Harry Borden and Tom Stoddart. Since it’s closure in 2005, I’ve largely represented myself, with the help of two successive independent commercial agents. It’s time for a change; to play with the big boys; nestle among the familiar; to be among friends. I look on-line at other the other core group of represented photographers for Reportage by Getty Images. There’s Eugene Richards, Jonathan Torgovnick, Benjamin Lowy, Brent Stirton and the cheeky chap himself, Tom Stoddart. It already feels like home.
30th I have 60 days to raise $12,000. My project, England Uncensored, has been accepted on the site www.emphas.is book publishing arm of the crowdfunding visual journalism platform. Sixty days. I can’t decide if that is too much time, or not enough. It’s the morning of the launch. I check the Emphas.is site and discover two other books will also be attempting their target: Trading to Extinction by Patrick Brown and Faded Tulips by William Daniels. I upload a personal appeal to Vimeo; it doesn’t play properly. A quick re-edit works. Teaser hash-tagged tweets have been fed the previous few days: 3, 2, 1... I launch project #helpdench. I Facebook the news; LinkedIn the news and get to work direct emailing. The funding website has a few gremlins and people are having difficulty pledging. When the website settles the response is surprising. School friends I’ve not met, since school, start to pledge. Some people I’ve recently bent over backwards to help remain unresponsive. The industry starts to take notice. Photographer Simon Roberts is quick to back the book. Martin Parr responds to a direct email with a pledge soon after. I log off day one on $835.
The Sunday Times Magazine is 50 years old. It is holding a 50th-anniversary exhibition and party at the Saatchi Gallery, London. My instinct says suit; fortunately I have one. Up the candlelit red carpet and I tuck in behind Jeremy Paxman in the queue. I body swerve Vanessa Feltz and Jilly Cooper, pause to say a quick hello to Jeremy Clarkson, and then gobble at the tray of champagne. A good few glasses later, I totter to put my glass down on a shelf. The shelf moves. It’s the ridiculously pert buttocks of Carol Vorderman; even the women applaud its solidity. The evening unfolds in a role call of industry legends that are as fascinating as the exhibits.
14th Today I feel the LOVE. A top-dollar pledge has kissed the stuttering #helpdench book campaign back into life and a the target is breached. Darlings; I’m going to have a book!