Monday, 12 September 2016

Terence Donovan: Speed of Light by Denni Rusking

Terence Donovan (1936-1996) was born and raised in the East End of  London. In his teens he joined the Bethnal Green Photographer's Club and his first efforts won him some prizes. After completing his National Service Donovan became involved with John French who had revolutionised the British press by giving newspapers the same high quality photos that previously were only seen in the pages of glossy fashion magazines. French was known for his indoor studio work but Donovan was more interested in taking photos outdoors, usually of tough looking James Bond type men wearing immaculate Austin Reed suits. Donovan's hero was Bill Brandt. Brandt's photos have a gritty feel about them, which you can definitely see in Donovan's work.
In 1960 Micheal Heseltine became publisher of Man About Town magazine. Heseltine changed the publication making it more about men's fashion. Around the time David Bailey would become famous for taking photos of glamorous women fir Vogue magazine, Donovan would make a name for himself taking photos of stylish men for Town.

Speed of Light is the first major retrospective of Terence Donovan's work and there is much to enjoy. It's nice to see the membership card from the Bethnal Green Photographer's Club and Donovan's collection of cameras, and his notes and letters. Donovan did well in the Thatcher years. His portraits of the great and the good from this period are quite stunning. It was in the 80s that Donovan made his best known work which is the video of Addicted To Love by Robert Palmer. Donovan filmed 5 models pretending to be Palmer's backing band. The gorgeous models appear to be in a zombie state. Their outfits are almost transparent and their make-up is overdone. They are disturbing, stunning and sexy and Donovan's video is one of the most memorable pop videos of all time.

In the 90s GQ magazine employed Donovan to take photos of dozens of British icons such as Lemmy from Motorhead. The portraits are all here, many of them are great images but I found myself thinking Donovan can't have been too excited about photographing Jarvis Cocker or Damon from Blur. By the mid 90s it's hard to think what was left for Donovan to achieve. He seen it all and bought the t-shirt. His friends and family were shocked when it was discovered Donovan committed suicide.

Donovan's ex studio and home in Bourdon Street is now up for grabs. The asking price is 18 million pounds. Outside his old head quarters there is a bronze statue by Neal French of Donovan photographing Twiggy. There's no doubt that Terence Donovan helped to make the 60s swing. This exhibition is a fitting tribute to a great talent.

The show runs until the 25th September.
 The Photographer's Gallery, (Floors 4 & 5), 16 - 18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW

(Text by Denni Rusking 2016)

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