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Interviste

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England Uncensored: Peter Dench on 10 years of portraying his fellow countrymen

© Peter Dench/Reportage by Getty Images
December 2011

Peter Dench, a British photographer and writer, has spent much of the past 10 years documenting the lives of the English. CPN spoke to Dench on film about how the project developed, and the transition from medium format to shooting with the EOS 5D Mark II.

Peter Dench insists that being called “Martin Parr lite” has done nothing to harm his reputation or career – quite the opposite in fact. Being compared to the controversial Magnum photographer has, if anything, heightened the curiousity about his projects, many of which have won international accolades, such as an exhibition at the Visa pour l’Image festival, and AOP Open and PDN Photo Annual awards.

© Peter Dench/Reportage by
   Getty Images

‘Smile 2moro will be worse’. Two childcare workers push a buggy with six children past a slogan spray painted on a bridge along Portobello Road on the Preston Road Estate in Hull, England.

In 2000 the UK photo agency, Independent Photographers Group (IPG), offered to part fund Dench’s plans to document the drinking habits of the English, for which he subsequently won a World Press Photo award. Spurred on by this, he expanded the work to include English attitudes towards such themes as the weather, ethnicity, class and love. Dench calls the resulting body of work – England Uncensored: A Decade of Photographing the English – “a romp through this often badly behaved nation, not an idealised brochure of the green and pleasant land that tourist boards want to promote”.

Dench was surprised by how amenable his subjects had been considering how up-close and personal the images often are. “The question I’m always asked is, ‘how do the people being photographed feel about the photographs?’ – and generally everyone was positive,” he says. “In a 13-year career I’ve only been punched in the face once, and that’s quite an achievement in England, I think. I’ve been embraced and welcomed into each situation in which I’ve found myself, and that was a surprise.” He added: “I hope if people look at the work they will see a fondness of my countrymen running through it. During the course of the project, I’ve had to wear a pink wig, dress up as Spiderman, and on one occasion wear nothing at all.”

Prior to the launch of the EOS 5D Mark II Dench had shot exclusively on medium format. He admits that the transition to digital was a difficult decision to make and only made it when he was convinced his style would translate flawlessly. “Using the EOS 5D Mark II made the transition a lot easier for me – there’s a continuity of style that I’m pleased with,” he says. “I don’t think you can argue between film and digital anymore – the quality is there.”

Biografia: Peter Dench

Peter Dench

British photographer Peter Dench is known for his quirky style – something that has guaranteed him regular commissions. He has won a World Press Photo prize for his depiction of the English and their drinking habits and his 10-year project, England Uncensored, was exhibited at Visa pour l’Image in 2011. His clients include Barclays Bank, FIFA, Suzuki, Weetabix, Time magazine, New York Times Magazine, Stern, Sunday Times Magazine and Newsweek.



Showcase

A man holding a can of high strength lager carries a baby on Blackpool promenade. The city has been attracting visitors ever since 1735, when the first guesthouse opened. In the 19th Century, it became a popular working class destination among the English.