Forget rolling hills and dales – exhibition shows the real face of Britain

An image from England Uncensored.  Photo: Peter Dench
An image from England Uncensored. Photo: Peter Dench
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England may have green and pleasant lands, but it also has beer guts, out-of-control hen parties and tattoos, lots of tattoos.

In the latest exhibition to open at the new White Cloth Photography and Film Gallery in Leeds, the venue’s co-founder Peter Dench turns his lens away from the obvious scenes of rolling hills and dales to capture the real spirit of the country.

So while he takes in Lord’s cricket ground and Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford, Dench also travels to Blackpool, a festival in Oxford where people dress up as horses to Morris dance and Kent’s annual War and Peace Show where civilians spend the weekend driving around in tanks and pretending to be Nazi soldiers.

Dench’s odyssey around his home country resulted in 144 photographs, which were published in a book England Uncensored, and the exhibition features a large slice of the original collection.

“I guess it started in earnest in 2000 when I began exploring people’s drinking habits,” says Dench. “That collection, which captured people from the north to the south and the rich to the poor won an international award and it got me thinking about where I could go next.

“I decided to look at various themes from love to the weather and our infatuation with the war and together the idea was to create a picture of Englishness in photographs.

“In truth I could have gone on forever, but when you start noticing the same kind of images cropping up it’s definitely time to stop.”

To complement the English Uncensored exhibition the gallery will also be playing host to The London Festival of Photography’s The Great British Public. Encompassing street, documentary and conceptual photography by the likes of Simon Roberts, Zed Nelson and Liz Hingley, alongside films by Nick Cunard, the two events should further cement the gallery’s reputation.

When White Cloth opened its doors earlier this year it was billed as both a space for established artists and a platform for emerging talents to showcase their work.

So far, they have put their money where their mouth is. Opening with The Family, Jocelyn Bain Hogg’s portraits of London’s criminal underworld, the gallery has just shown Chris Floyd’s photographs of 140 of his Twitter followers, both exhibitions did a brisk trade.

However, White Cloth also sees itself as more than just an exhibition space.

“What we really want is to become a focal point for film and photography in Leeds and the centre of a new citywide arts network,” says co-founder Sharon Price. “There will be frequent book signings to give visitors the chance to meet and engage with those who are exhibiting. White Cloth is part of the community and to that end we will also be holding regular fundraising events.”

Next week, proceeds from the England Uncensored launch night will be donated to the city’s St Gemma’s Hospice and the following day there will be a chance to meet Dench himself.

“It’s our intention that the gallery will be a popular space where the work of established artists such as Peter will be exhibited alongside upcoming local talent,” says Sharon. “We are really passionate that we can help develop Yorkshire as a region of first class arts and culture.”

England Uncensored, White Cloth Gallery, Leeds, July 19 to September 6. For more details of the launch night and book signing by Peter Dench call 0113 218 1923 or online at www.whiteclothgallery.com