There were three of them: Bailey and Duffy and Donovan. Three British photographers who would turn magazine photography on its head at the start of what was to become known in the UK as the Swinging Sixties. It was Brian Duffy who, with a bold swipe at Cecil Beaton, said – “Before us, fashion photographers were tall, thin and camp. We’re different. We’re short, fat and heterosexual.”
Different they certainly were. Before these blokes burst onto the scene, magazines like Vogue exuded a rarefied atmosphere of day suits, evening gloves and nights at the opera. Bailey, Duffy and Donovan – all in their twenties – brought a new energy and attitude to magazine photography, and changed it.
Terence Donovan came from a working class background in Stepney in east London. As a young man, the backdrop to his life was a stark, post-Blitz industrial landscape, and he used that same backdrop for much of his fashion photography.
When Donovan was commissioned in 1960 for a men’s fashion shoot in Man About Town magazine, he didn’t set up his camera in a Royal park with vintage cars and picnic hampers as props. He chose a grimy power station, with metal ladders and hissing steam providing the atmosphere for a photo set entitled ‘Thermodynamic’.
Donovan’s streetwise documentary style gave a new narrative to the fashion photograph. Together with David Bailey and Brian Duffy, he was instrumental in defining a new era in British fashion photography.
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The copywriter’s art
Here is the text from the actual magazine, which appeared in January 1961. The abbreviation ‘gns’ stands for guineas, an archaic currency term that was still used in the 1960s for garment pricing. In the days before Britain adopted decimal currency, the pound was divided into 20 shillings. A guinea was 21 shillings, i.e. just over 1 pound.
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Terence Donovan had a studio at 30 Bourdon Street in London’s Mayfair. Just around the corner, in Bourdon Place, sculptor Neal French has created a work entitled Three Figures, featuring Terence Donovan photographing iconic 1960’s model Twiggy (out of shot right) while a passing lady shopper stops momentarily to watch.