Indepth Arts News: |
"Terence Donovan: The Eye That Never Sleeps"
2002-05-25 until 2002-08-03
Sheffield Galleries and Museum Trust, Graves Art Gallery
UK United Kingdom
"The eye that never sleeps" is the phrase used by the family of Terence
Donovan (1936-96), regarded today as one of Britain's greatest
photographers, to describe his dedication to photography. It has been
borrowed for use as the title of a new major exhibition of Donovan's
photographs. The Museum of London is a most fitting venue for this, his first
retrospective, which displays just a small part of an archive of almost a million
negatives, and concentrates on Donovan's contribution to the cultural history
of the city he loved. 'Through his London photographs', writes Simon
Thurley, Director of the Museum of London, Terence Donovan has 'shown
the glamour, the charm, the grit and the seediness of modern London.'
Born in Stepney in London's East End, Donovan was as comfortable in the
ateliers of Paris couturiers as he was in the streets east of Aldgate. But it was
the chaos of these streets, the swathes of bombed-out terrain which was
'vital', as photographic historian Val Williams writes, 'to the construction of a
new fashion iconography'. Donovan photographed men's fashion in a gritty,
grimy style years before it was de rigeur for men's fashion photography. He
took his models to East End tenements or placed them wreathed in steam
high on the platforms of gasometers. He took them to the bomb-damaged
docklands, and balanced them on the girders of steelworks and iron bridges,
motifs of an age of industry.
Donovan also delighted in the beauty of the female form, adorned or not.
Amongst the array of beautiful women who appear in the exhibition, Julie
Christie stares out intensely over her naked shoulder. Diana, Princess of
Wales, is glimpsed ostensibly in the background, but her smile forms the
focus of the image; Madonna, every inch the glamorous star, relaxes in an
exclusive London restaurant.
In a long career that started at 15, Donovan was astonishly prolific. He was a
feature film and documentary maker, he directed some 3000 commercials,
produced music videos, and was an accomplished painter. His work took
him around the world, photographing for Elle and Marie-Claire in Paris, and
Harper's Bazaar in Milan and New York. But Donovan never let London go.
His last published photograph - of the London-based design team
Clements Riberio - was for Vogue, with whom he had an association that
began in 1961. The intervening years did nothing to diminish Donovan's
technical skill or obscure his unerring eye.
From grainy documentary work set against bleakly urban backgrounds, to
stylish models in elegant lingerie in sumptuous surroundings; from portraits
chosen for their connection to the life of London - Terence Stamp, Peter
Blake and Francis Bacon amongst others - to personal work, lovingly
capturing the photographer's wife and children, the eye that never sleeps
shows for the first time the vast range of this dynamic man, who for nearly 40
years defined the spirit of his times.