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House Of God © Terence Donovan Archive (27)

Long lost Terence Donovan images exhibited

A collection by the Honorary Fellow has been rediscovered after decades in a drawer. Terry Donovan, his son, explains why

From the ‘House of God’ series, the Que Club, Birmingham, January 1996

For years they were stuffed among an assorted collection of pens, tape and putty, forgotten by all but one person.

Now, previously unseen images by Terence Donovan HonFRPS will finally go on show to the public, revealing hidden secrets about one of the midlands’ most influential music venues. They are some of the final photographs ever produced by Donovan, one of Britain’s best-known post-war artists.

The 65 shots were taken by Donovan in January 1996, during a visit to the Que Club in Birmingham. By night, the Que Club was a wonderland of dark corners, headachingly loud music and hard drugs. By day, it was a place of worship for Birmingham’s Methodist community.

House Of God © Terence Donovan Archive (22) Wr

From the ‘House of God’ series, the Que Club, Birmingham, January 1996

The double life of this now-defunct venue is just one aspect of the forthcoming In the Que exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Donovan’s images will be hung alongside photographs taken by partygoers who gleefully ignored the Que Club’s ‘no cameras’ diktat.

Donovan, however, was acting within the rules when he came to the club. “Dad was there all night,” says Terry Donovan, who had invited his father to experience the House of God club night at which he was a resident DJ. “He walked into the club wearing a camouflage jacket and just disappeared into the background. I would see him throughout the night, but he was in his element. There was such an enormous canvas of people to shoot, he just did his thing.”

The images are infused with the free spirit that the club inspired. They are stark and they are joyful: a melee of youths from a bygone era, revelling in the darkness. Gone are the miniskirts and mod dresses of Donovan’s earlier work, replaced by gravity-defying mohicans and well-worn tracksuits.

Jimi Hendrix 1967 © Terence Donovan Archive Mr

Jimi Hendrix, August 1967. Photographed at home in London for the Observer magazine

Donovan’s reputation as one of the UK’s first three celebrity photographers – contemporaries David Bailey HonFRPS and Brian Duffy complete the trinity – was built upon a post-war sense of freedom and hedonism. In the 1980s, he gained a new generation of admirers when he directed the controversial 1986 music video for Robert Palmer’s song, Addicted to Love. Donovan died in November 1996, just months after his visit to the Que Club.

Jez Collins, curator of In the Que, explains that the rediscovery of the images came about thanks to an interview with another titan of the Que Club scene – Chris Wishart, a founder of House of God. “I had my coat on, packed up the kit and was literally walking out the front door when he said, ‘Oh, you might be interested in these,’” explains Collins.

The photographs, kept in a drawer for decades, have now been restored and magnified for use. The exhibitors have made a conscious decision to surround the work with contributions from the very people who flocked to the club week after week.

“We’ve got Terence Donovan’s work next to photographs that people just snatched, or took of themselves getting ready in the bedroom,” says Collins. “Many of the clubbers thought their photographs were basically worthless. No, no. They’re not worthless. They’re really important historical documentation, and we want to treat them as importantly as the Donovan photographs.”

Grace Coddington, Jan 1964 ©Terence Donovan Archive

Grace Coddington, Harper’s Bazaar, April 1964

“I’ve taken other people to the club, and sometimes it was a bit much for them, and some found it a little scary,” adds Terry. “But he was drawing on such wide life experience that nothing ever really shocked him. He just went to work in the club, and I just got to sit back and experience two parts of my life that I’m incredibly proud of coming together for one night.”

Donovan made for a surprising nightlife photographer – even Terry admits to only seeing his father’s documentary reportage on one other occasion. He is far better known for inspiring and fostering the chic, buoyant movement of Swinging London, and for producing carefully controlled portraits of everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Diana, Princess of Wales.

Terence Stamp

Terence Stamp published in British Vogue, July 1967. Photographed on the set of John Schlesinger’s film Far From the Madding Crowd

All images by Terence Donovan HonFRPS. See more of Donovan's work on the Terence Donovan Archive and Instagram.

In the Que runs from 28 April until December 2022 at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

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Peter Anthony photographed at the now demolished Grove Road Power Station in St John’s Wood. From ‘Thermodynamic’, a fashion story for the January 1961 issue of About Town magazine