Terence Donovan exhibition review

Review of the Terence Donovan: Speed of Light exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery, London

19th August, 2016

Curator: Robin Muir

Location: 4th & 5th floors of The Photographers’ Gallery, London.

  • very spacious; varied materials: cameras, magazines, diaries &

daybooks with technical notes.


Wish: that the format was not identical to that of the exhibition on 2nd floor with a signature image/s against the first wall that greets the viewer.



‘Made you look’ exhibition              

I also found that the black type on such a strong red background made reading the text very difficult.

Example of work:



I was very pleased that I recognized some of his work. It was also good to see that his work developed & that it was not only about uniformly ‘clean’ shots of Londoners / celebrities over the 40 years of his practice.

My favourite shots were taken from those I did not know:






I also did not know about his use of surveillance techniques, slow exposure times and out-of-focus shots to simulate film set techniques.

What I took away with me about the work:

The variety in his work, the fact that he worked for textile manufacturers of all the synthetic materials which came up in the clothing industry in the 1960’s. Today, more than ever, in my opinion, photographers need to expand their portfolios in order to maintain their practice. The photographers we research in the courses are specialists & have, almost exclusively, produced work for which they are famous: Jane Bown, Simon Norfolk, Tim Hetherington …

What I took away about me:

I question the importance of the photographer’s voice: the images above stood out for me because I would never have said that they reflect what Donovan stood for in the 1960’s – 1990’s.


The retrospective exhibition could have played less on the well-known images of Donovan and could have presented a fresh view of the unknown / less known Donovan. People have come away from it bored because they felt that there was too much of the known Donovan & the magazines on display were too familiar. I suppose that the summer visitors to London would have enjoyed seeing London as Donovan saw it in the last 40 years of the last century. But did locals appreciate the regurgitation?

Putting the exhibition on the top 2 floors reminded me of the exhibitions in the Pompidou Centre, Paris: the most important exhibits are on the top floor – surely this can’t be the thinking here?

Why two floors when so much of it is so well known?

Next steps:

In trying to find my own voice, I must be aware of putting variety in my work.


Star rating:

3 stars.


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