Exercise 3-9: England Uncensored

Read the article on Peter Dench’s series ‘England Uncensored’ by BBC Picture Editor Phil Coomes.

Dench talks about his “humorous approach with an underlying social commentary”. What do you think of this approach? Does it work? What are the ethical issues?

It is interesting to revisit the work of Peter Dench for this exercise as it is something I have already considered in a previous project. (See – Exercise 3-2: Surrealism and colour photography)

Here, we are asked to consider a specific question regarding the use of humour in his work, the success of this as a documentary strategy and ethical issues. I am drawn to a comment made by Dench: “The humour disarms viewers allowing the impact of a more serious image dropped into the sequence to be tenfold.” While I would agree with this point in principle, I am not sure Dench succeeds to demonstrate this in his work – looking back on ‘England Uncensored’ I find the tonal changes across the series jarring. I wonder if this is subsequently having looked at other photographer’s work (particularly Martin Parr, Paul Reas, Anna Fox and Paul Graham) that demonstrates a clarity in both intent and execution. Dench openly admits to Parr being a major influence on his work, to the point that he even made a pilgrimage to New Brighton to literally follow in his footsteps. While this is clear both in style and subject matter, it is substance that I now find lacking. Whatever else you may think of Parr’s work; his series are always conceptually and thematically strong and this is something Dench does not manage to emulate. Ethically I have no issue with Dench’s approach – it is as valid as any of the other photographers I have cited and attacking this would require assumptions about the intent of Dench that would be unfair to make.

Bibliography:

Coomes, P. (2012) England Uncensored by Peter Dench. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/17190001 [accessed 9th April 2018]

Dench, P. (2011) The Last Resort Revisited. Available at: http://peterdench.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/new-brighton-revisited.html [accessed 12th May 2018]

Dench, P. (2012) England Uncensored. Dublin: Emphas.is Journalism Experiences Ltd.

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