12 by Peter Dench
Posted on March 3, 2015
Award-winning British photojournalist Peter Dench is best known for his decade of work documenting England. He is a keen and astute observer of human nature, and in particular some of the more quirky aspects of life. Peter shares his thoughts on collaboration, crowdfunding and uncomfortable swimwear with us.
You say that ‘England Uncensored’ is a homage to the UK, what prompted you to make this work?
England is my passion, my home and its people the ones I’m fascinated by most. It’s important for me to try and document what’s on the doorstep as well as what interests me half way around the world.
© Peter Dench
When you go out to shoot your personal projects, do you set out with a preconceived idea of what you intend to capture, or do you just go with the flow?
It helps if you know why your leaving your loved ones behind, to spend money you might not have in the company of strangers. For me it it doesn’t have to be the most developed of ideas: a word – rain; love; alcohol; or it could just be a town/city that I’ve not explored photographically before. The hardest thing as a photographer is to keep swinging your legs out of bed; it’s good to have an idea of what you intend to capture but not to dwell on it for a disabling amount of time.
You’ve published books with and without crowdfunding, how does the experience differ?
It differs wildly. With the second book, A&E: Alcohol & England, I showed the work to Colin Wilkinson at Bluecoat Press, he liked the work, explained four books would be published that year and would like A&E to be one of them. I gave him the files, Bluecoat Press designed, printed and delivered a 156 page hardback book. Crowdfunding is an equally grueling and rewarding experience that can deliver cackling highs and head-banging lows; it takes you to places in your head you forgot existed and has you reaching out to people from a time long passed. Then, IF you reach your funding target; you have to design, print and get the book distributed!
© Peter Dench
Has there ever been a time where you wished you did something else for a living?
Never! Being a photographer is a tremendous privilege taking you to the front line of life to meet many extraordinary characters. Photography has put me in glorious situations that otherwise would have been impossible: drinking gin with the Queen; dancing with Maharajas and stood wearing only my trainers astride the San Andreas fault line.
Have you ever received feedback from people who’ve appeared in your photos?
Absolutely. I collect the contact details from as many people who feature in my work as possible and actively encourage them to send feedback. For my latest reportage; The British Abroad, this was no exception. The photographs I took wouldn’t have been possible without the collaboration of a host of club owners; party promoters and general ‘players’ in the party scene across Europe. Generally, the feedback is positive.
How has your work changed over the past 10 years?
My attitude towards my work and photography as a profession has changed more than my style of photography. Being a photographer can often be an introspective process; I’ve tried to be more open and collaborative and use new tools of communication – writing; video; presenting etc.
© Peter Dench
(Ed. – Peter’s writes about his own experiences in Magaluf as a teenager)
Has social media had an impact on the way you work?
Social media hasn’t just had an impact on the way I work, it’s blown it apart and re-mapped the blueprint! It has made researching a project more achievable and created far reaching ways of communicating the results. Without social media, crowd funding would not be a success.
(Ed. – Peter has set up a Facebook page where people can post their own experiences of bring a Brit abroad.
What prompted you to make images on a Lomography Diana F+ for your latest project ‘The British Abroad’?
For me, being a modern photographer is all about producing quality content. If you can write the feature, shoot the stills, record audio and video, you have a great platform for a reportage. In my opinion, it’s no longer enough to have an exhibition of just still images; it needs ephemera, a multi-media element, music and wine! With this in mind, the Lomography images had a dual purposes: to engage with a different audience for the book and to provide an ice-breaker for the people I was photographing; it’s difficult not to be disarmed when someone raises a Diana F+ to the eye.
© Peter Dench
Do you ever feel uncomfortable taking a picture?
If I’ve sand in my swimming trunks but I don’t think that’s what you mean. When I was photographing in Sunny Beach, Bulgaria (without sand in my swimming trunks) I met two young women at a beach foam party who were studying (back in the UK) to be a Nursery Nurse and Mental Health Nurse: a few nights later, I found them in a terrible state from alcohol and made a judgement not to take a picture so I wasn’t tempted to publish it at a later date.
What do you think about when you are just about to press the shutter?
I’ve no idea what I think! I know I feel something; a lucid moment that what I’m seeing, for some reason, at this specific moment in time matters.
© Peter Dench
With regards to photography, who inspires you?
The photographers that inspire me are generally the ones at the other end of the spectrum to what I do: and here, I’m thinking of photographers Marcus Bleasdale, Tom Stoddart and Brent Stirton. My own photography is more influenced by columns and comedians: Danny Wallace; Jon Ronson; Tim Dowling; Al Murray and Henning Wehn [German].
Have you any advice for our 12 by 12 members when it comes editing and sequencing their own work?
Don’t become too attached to images for the wrong reasons; just because you spent money travelling far away to make a picture doesn’t make it any better than if you put no effort into capturing a frame in your lounge. Live with your edit; show it to people whose opinions you trust and not just photographers – family, friends, the local butcher. Be ruthless.
Interview by Emma Georgiou
– 12 by 12 team