In Conversation with Peter Dench as ‘The English Summer Season’ Exhibition Launches at WEX Photo Video Gallery in London
As Wex Photo Video launches its latest exhibition Wex Photo Video Gallery in London, which showcases unseen work from British photographer Peter Dench in the shape of his
‘The English Summer Season’ collection, PhotoBite rocked up for the private view to ask the man at the centre of the images a few questions.
Simon Skinner: Peter. Why this collection and why now?
Peter Dench: English is my passion. Its people are the ones I want to understand most, and they’re the ones I’ve consistently pointed my lens towards, over a 20-year career. I first started visiting events of the English summer season in 1998, when I was just starting out, and I was using the images to rebuild my portfolio. So I’ve always had an affection for these events. But I also know that every five years; every 10 years, it’s worth revisiting a subject to see how it’s progressed. To see how it’s been updated and to see what’s changed. That is the reason for this collection. I’m trying to let go of all the pictures I took between 1998 and 2010 and work on a new archive of England. A second decade, if you like, so it was important for me to go back and just witness how much has changed over the last few summers.
SS: Okay, so the images in this collection are being billed as ‘previously unseen’. Does that mean that this is a new overall project from the past two years, or is this an edit; a kind of ‘best of the rest’ from commissioned works?
PD: I’m sure they’re previously unseen by someone, [laughs]! It’s the latter. The work here is the result of two commissions and some personal work, so the edit here is what I and my collaborators think are the key images that represent the English summer season, today.
SS: Perhaps you can tell us a little about some some of the events that have built the project.
PD: The key events and some are the Epson Derby, Royal Ascot, the Glyndebourne Opera festival, the Henley Royal Regatta, and the Queen’s Cup Cartier Polo.
SS: Which of those was the most fun to attend from a photographic point of view?
PD: It’s difficult because, you know, each event is quite unique in the people it attracts. I’d say it has to be Royal Ascot. Unfortunately, the class system hasn’t been smashed. Even though it’s now more accessible, within the racecourse, you still have this inherent hierarchy. At one end of the course, you have private members club’s tents and the Royal Enclosure. In the middle, you have Bollinger tents for the bankers, selling jeroboams of Champagne, and at the other end, you’ll find the more ‘affordable’ bars and eateries. It’s fascinating that on one hand, Royal Ascot as made itself more accessible, but then what that forces attendees to do is to try and ratchet up how they distinguish themselves from other event visitors, so it’s sort of polarizing. It’s enormous fun.
SS: Given the broader audience that now attends these events, that have traditionally been the domain of the upper classes, have you found any or much resistance to shooting visitors in recent times?
PD: No. No, I don’t think so. You know, I think people put too much emphasis on, the fact that they care about being photographed. Most people are there for a good day out. They’ve got their own agenda, and so I can go about my job unhindered. From from outside the events, I think the event organizers are trying to influence what kind of photographs are taken at these kinds of events, which puts pressure on the publications and the agencies that send photographers because they don’t want accreditation to be revoked.
SS: Yes. have their own agendas there and their own PR to consider.
PD: Yeah, in these modern times of influencers, you know, I’m concerned that my intention as a photojournalist might be squeezed. That said, at the events themselves I don’t meet with any resistance, or very little. I’m not ashamed to be a photographer. If someone asks if I’m photographing them I say yes, and explain why. Then it becomes a collaboration.
SS: The landscape has changed somewhat in terms of editorial work, with the traditional publishing sector in perpetual decline. You’ve previously commented on how it’s become increasingly tough to land well-paid editorial work. With this in mind, how important to Peter Dench, the photographer’s overall business are the print sales generated from exhibiting collections nowadays?
PD: Print sales are a bonus. I take pictures to be seen and in this modern era, there are more ways of getting your images seen, whether that’s online, in a zine, in an editorial or as an exhibition. So while on the one hand the top news magazines, which have traditionally been the go-to for visibility, have declined, other outlets have opened so income streams have dispersed. So I guess it’s not been too much of a shift for me. Print sales are all very humbling. It’s always a privilege to know and to see that someone wants what I see, why I’ve seen, as a representation in their home or in their business premises.
SS: Is this a collection that you’re going to get you’re going to continue to add to throughout the summer of this year?
PD: If I’m accredited, yes. It’s a photographer’s jackpot with so much colour and so much character and variety. If I don’t go to these events on a regular basis I do suffer from major FOMO, [Fear of Missin Out]. And things are rapidly changing. I saw sniffer dogs at Ascot for the first time, in the last handful of summers. That suggests that there’s a change in the behaviour of the people attending. I’ve seen the debris in the toilets and in the litter, which suggests that the dogs are necessary.
SS: Enough said! Okay, so, what else can we look forward to from you this year?
PD: Good question. I’m continuing to work on the English as I always do. I’m keen to take a look at our former foe, and you know, parachute myself behind the lines of Germany in the adventure that I hope will be ‘Dench does Deutschland’. Pending funding. That’s the key.
SS: Thanks Peter and good luck with the exhibition.
PD: Thank you.