Terence Donovan was born, the only child of a working class family, in East London in 1936. Fascinated by photographs and photographic processing as a young boy, his professional photographic life started at the age of 11 at the London School of Photo-Engraving, which he left at 15 to become a photographer’s assistant. After a year at the John French studio (1957–58) he left, opening his own first photographic studio in 1959 at the age of 22. The studio was an instant success. Work poured in and his versatility attracted a range of clients, including the leading advertising agencies and the fashion and lifestyle magazines of the time, among them Vogue, Queen and Man About Town and later the influential Nova, Marie Claire and Elle. He accomplished much at an early age and came to particular prominence in the 1960s as part of the now famous era of ‘Swinging London’. Associated at this time with David Bailey and Brian Duffy, these three English photographers revolutionised the world of magazine and newspaper photography.
Shooting mostly with black-and-white film in these early years, his informal, intelligent style set him apart. In 1963 he took his first photograph for Vogue; an association that ended only with his death. His last published photograph was for Vogue and appeared posthumously in February 1997.In the 1970s he decided to diversify to concentrate mostly on advertising photography and the moving image. By the 1980s much of his time was spent making award-winning television commercials and advertising campaigns, while still shooting still photographs for fashion magazines and newspapers and covering the fashion collections twice a year for Harper’s Bazaar (Italy). He was a pioneer of the pop promotional video, most famously for Robert Palmer’s song Addicted to Love (1986), for which he was nominated one of Vanity Fair magazine’s ‘People of the Decade’ in 1989.
The Royal Family in particular Diana, Princess of Wales formed part of the many commissions, which he continued to undertake right up until his sudden death in November 1996. Shortly before he died, he was appointed a Visiting Professor at Central St Martins School of Art, a position of which he was fiercely proud. 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. Terence Donovan was a giant of a man who lived for his craft. Photography was his life and breath. He was a consummate observer. He gave his craft his all and is considered one of this country’s greatest photographers with an international reputation. He was a practising Buddhist who lived his life according to its tenets. Devoted to his family, he still managed to make time not only for his photography but also for all those who sought his advice and help. His photographs are testament to a life that, in the words of his wife Diana, “was supercharged with an energy that was completely inspirational”.