Terence Donovan

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Terence Donovan (1936-1996) came to prominence in London during the 1960s as part of a post-war cultural renaissance in Britain. With David Bailey and Brian Duffy – photographers of a similar background and outlook – Donovan was perceived as a new force in British fashion photography.

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Early Life

Born into a working class family in East London, Donovan was fascinated by photography and printmaking from an early age. His professional photographic life started at the age of 11 with an apprenticeship at the London School of Photo-Engraving. He left at 15 to become a photographer’s assistant before opening his own studio in 1959 at the age of twenty two. He was immediately sought after by a range of clients, including leading advertising agencies and fashion and lifestyle magazines of the time, including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle.

Photographic Style

Part of a working class influx into the previously rarefied worlds of fashion, media and the arts, Donovan’s iconoclastic and sometimes irreverent photography established a new visual language rooted in the world he knew best – the streets of London’s East End. Taking his models to bomb-ravaged wastegrounds or balancing them off industrial building sites, his gritty style was more like reportage than fashion photography. He worked for some of the most progressive magazines of the time including Queen, Town and London Life and his images became emblematic of the era. Donovan both documented and helped create the much-mythologised culture of 1960s London, and was amongst the first wave of celebrity photographers, socialising with, as well as photographing, the actors, musicians, designers and models who came to represent the decade.

In the 1970s he concentrated more specifically on advertising photography and moving image work and by the 1980s much of his time was spent making award-winning television commercials and advertising campaigns alongside editorial work for cutting edge magazines and newspapers, most conspicuously the now-legendary Nova magazine. Donovan was also a pioneer of the pop promo, most famously directing the iconic and much-imitated video for Robert Palmer’s song Addicted to Love (1986).

Later Career

The late 1980s and early 1990s marked a return to stills photography, with Donovan revisiting black and white film; his preferred medium during the early years of his career. In 1996, thirty years after London first swung, Donovan was once again commissioned to capture the spirit of the age, photographing a portfolio of British musicians including Jarvis Cocker and Bryan Ferry for the ‘Cool Britannia’ issue of GQ magazine. This series, published in the December issue, proved to be his last significant body of work. Despite his famously wide-ranging and diverse interests, Donovan’s passion for photography remained undiminished throughout his long career. In 1963 he told a young Jean Shrimpton: ‘photography fascinates me. Instant fascination every time. When the fascination leaves me, I’ll give it up.’

Selected Exhibitions and Publications

A retrospective exhibition of his London photographs was held at the Museum of London in 1999 and a large-format anthology of his photographs, Terence Donovan, was published in 2000. In 2012 Terence Donovan Fashion was published, edited by Diana Donovan and David Hillman. His first major retrospective, Terence Donovan: Speed of Light, opened at the Photographer’s Gallery, London in July 2016.

Donovan was at work until he died in November 1996. The Royal Family, and in particular Diana, Princess of Wales formed part of the many commissions which he continued to undertake up until his death. Shortly before he died, he was appointed a Visiting Professor at Central St Martins School of Art.

Related

Notes, News and Press

Press

The Times: Swinging 60s in prints to go on show at Huxley-Parlour Gallery

News

Terence Donovan to be included in Major Mary Quant Retrospective

Notes

Terence Donovan Photographs a Young Cindy Crawford