Art & Culture: Terence Donovan, Speed of Light

This summer take a trip into London’s Swinging Sixties as The Photographers’ Gallery presents Speed of Light, a retrospective of iconic art, fashion and portrait photographer Terence Donovan.  The first exhibition to capture Donovan’s 40 year career, shooting everyone from Twiggy to Princess Diana, Cindy Crawford and a young Grace Coddington, John Galliano and Jimi Hendrix, Donovan’s ability to capture his subjects with an unparalleled charisma and candor that extended beyond the frame is striking throughout the series of black and white shots.

“He was there on the spot when the Sixties exploded into life and captured it all,” said archivist Alex Anthony. An integral part of the era when London came to life in cultural revolution, with mod fashion in the mainstream, rock’n’roll on the radio an overall sense of optimism sweeping the city, Donovan was both behind the camera and center scene, creating work that defined the decade in numerous emblematic Vogue spreads along with seminal men’s fashion editorial work.

“He represented everything that was changing in the world of fashion; his eye was altering the way the world perceived women,” said Grace Coddington, who was shot by Donovan at the very start of her career. “(Donovan was) a photographer one simply had to work with if one’s career were to mean anything.”

The exhibition title comes from Donovan’s own signature saying, an expression used throughout his life and career to express the constant need for newness and change, which he championed within the realm of fashion photography, and in doing so also, in feminism. Donovan himself constantly challenged his camera and practice, and the exhibition features studio sketches, film and ephemera looking at the work behind the now iconic images we all know and the subjects we have gotten to know through Donovan’s eye.

“Photography fascinates me. Instant fascination every time,” Donovan once told a young Jean Shrimpton of his trade. And fascinate is exactly what his body of work does, showing the span of a creative career rich in art and in life.

Terence Donovan: Speed of Light is at The Photographers’ Gallery, London through September 25, 2016

About the Author

Sarah Bertness is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer covering the arts, music, fashion and culture. She has a love for all things avant-garde, late night rock and roll, wanderlust, and a good dose of fringe and gold sequins. You can follow her musings on Twitter and Instagram @sarahbertness.