Peter Dench (born 1972) is one of the most important photojournalists working today. His photographs commissioned by The Sunday Times document all aspects of English society. Dench’s picture essays include Drinking in England and Football’s Hidden Story and he has also published books such as England Uncensored (2012) and A&E: Alcohol and England (2014).
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Peter Dench was born in 1972 and grew up in Weymouth, Dorset. After his father gave him a Pentax camera for Christmas, he spent summers photographing wildlife in nature reserves. After his A Levels, Dench went to Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design and decided to pursue photography as a career. He went to the University of Derby to undertake a degree in Photographic Studies in 1995.
As a student Dench became interested in class divides and set out to photograph both scenes of aristocrats in country estates and inner city life. Speaking of both the divisions and intersections he found in English society, he has said: “On Saturday night in Derby you could watch two girls urinating in a shop doorway while sharing a cigarette and having a conversation then catch the bus over to Kedleston Hall on a Sunday morning for a picnic and a turn around the gardens. Class, piss, bad food, country houses, violence, the city, the sea; what was this place? Not the cover of a foreign field that Rupert Brooke had tucked in his pocket. This was England and I was confused.”
After graduating Dench went to London and joined the agency Reuters. When he showed his photographs of English society to The Sunday Times Magazine picture editor Aidan Sullivan, Dench received a commission from the magazine to photograph a weekend in the Willoughby Hedge lay-by on the A303 and the people who passed through it on their journeys. Speaking of his time photographing the English, Dench has said, “mostly I’ve been welcomed, occasionally threatened, only once punched in the face.”
With funding from the Independent Photographers’ Group, Dench set out on a project to photograph drinking habits in England. His picture essay, Drinking in England, was first published as an eleven page spread in The Sunday Times Magazine and went on to win a World Press Photo Award in the People in the News Stories category. Following on from the project’s success, Dench spent a decade documenting England by theme. His topics were wide-ranging but often included drinking, ethnic integration, holidaying and fashion. His work has taken him to Eton College, Butlin’s holiday camp, on patrol with the Plymouth Police and out for a night with the Bristol Rapid Response Unit. The photographs are humorous and playful, despite their often serious backdrop. Photographer, Simon Roberts, has said that Dench has an “inimitable style and dry humour.” Dench’s photographs of England, taken between 1998 and 2010 are compiled in England Uncensored.
In 2007 Dench started work on a fifteen-month project called Football’s Hidden Story for which he travelled to 20 countries on commission for FIFA to document “the way in which the sport thrives in the most improbable circumstances and in which enthusiasm for the game is being harnessed for the good of the community.” In 2012 he cofounded the photography and film space, White Cloth Gallery, Leeds, and was commissioned the following year to undertake a six month project commissioned by OMD UK to document the economic difficulties faces by the British population. He has also undertaken advertising commissions for large-scale campaigns including those for Weetabix, Barclaycard and Suzuki.
Dench has published books including England Uncensored (2012) and A&E: Alcohol and England (2014). He has been commissioned for The New Yorker and Telegraph Magazine and his column, The Dench Diary, is published in Hungry Eye magazine. He lives and works in London.