Occupying two upper floors of London’s The Photographers’ Gallery, Speed of Light is an expansive and illuminating homage to one of London fashion photography’s spearhead figures: Terence Donovan.
One of the ‘Black Trinity’ along with David Bailey and Brian Duffy, Donovan was part of a working-class emergence in the 1960s fashion, media and art scene. This major retrospective spans the breadth of Donovan’s rich career, delivering his diverse body of work, interview footage, and previously unseen material to reveal the man behind the lens.
Upon opening his own studio in 1959, Donovan’s originality and strong photographic eye soon led to shoots with Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar. His success snowballed from there, giving rise to many iconic images of the Swingin’ Sixties, and defining the era as one of high-fashion and glamour. Donovan – along with Bailey and Duffy – were promoted to a position amongst rock stars and supermodels. Fashion, art and music thrived.
As the retrospective continues, Donovan’s unique aptitude to find, not just the perfect photograph, but his perfect photograph is defined. His creation of the classy, pre-Bond agent in ‘About Town’ arguably paved the way for male fashion photography, whilst the sheer diversity of his shoots with the female form held the fashion world in awe. Even his journey into advertising and moving imagery in the 1970s and 80s – for which his ‘training in stills counted for nothing’ – led to award-winning campaigns and iconic pop-promos such as the video for Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’. Throughout his life, Donovan’s enduring fascination with photography and the talent that enabled him to work on his own terms produced images that were industry-leading and endlessly captivating.
Video footage of Donovan describing his work process is particularly enlightening. Typical of his pragmatic, working-class approach to life, he declares that “there is a day-to-day challenge with photography, and the photographer is never on a pedestal… Having to connect with someone so intimately (in a shoot) is endlessly fascinating… When the fascination leaves me, I’ll give it up.” Furthermore, David Bailey’s description of Donovan as someone who was tirelessly driven to better his photography and Donovan’s own account of his proactive, ‘ever-twitching eye’, reveal the forces at work behind his mastery.
A major retrospective that gives serious insight into the character and talent of Donovan, whilst revealing the lively London environment in which he flourished, Speed of Light is a highlight of this year’s London photography scene. A London icon and pioneering photographer, his work well befits the large, dedicated space it has been given, and holds immeasurable quantities of inspiration for the budding practitioner.
Terence Donovan: Speed of Light is showing at The Photographers’ Gallery until 25th September. 16-18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW. More information can be found online at http://www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk.