Newfound photographs of ’90s rave culture taken by fashion photographer Terence Donovan shortly before his death will be shown for the first time.
Intimate shots of revelers lost in the sounds of Birmingham’s Que Club, a music venue enjoyed by everyone from David Bowie and Blur to Daft Punk and Run-DMC, are believed to be some of the last photos taken by Donovan.
Hidden in a drawer in Wolverhampton for 25 years, the photos represent a “very unusual” shift in the subject matter of the photographer, who made his name in the 1960s by capturing “swinging London” and supermodels like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton.
“At the time he took these photos, he was still a photographer Vogue magazine “We shoot fashion and take pictures of the rich and famous,” said Jes Collins, curator for the upcoming exhibition, The Que, which will display 10 of the 65 newly discovered photographs at Birmingham’s Museum and Art Gallery in April. “He was portraying people like Princess Diana and musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Ian Dory – but as far as I know, he’s never really portrayed the club environment and normal, everyday people.”
Donovan was nearing sixty when, in January 1996, he focused his lens on dance and rave culture at the Que Club at the behest of his son, a student at the University of Birmingham who was a DJ there. “He would totally get out of his comfort zone in terms of the music, which was so pulsing, with a lot of drugs in the dark,” Collins said. “I think the subject and the building itself piqued his interest.”
Housed in a former church, the Grade II listed Methodist Central Hall, Donovan visited for a techno music night known as the House of God. Shot in black and white, on a smoky dance floor, “He captured something of a gorgeous beauty. The photos are really suggestive of what the clubbing culture was like at the time.”
In addition to revealing the club’s array of subcultures—punks with Mohicans, bare skinheads, girls in tight dresses and young men in tracksuits, “these photos show the intimacy on the dance floor, and the unbridled expression of people having a good time dancing together at a venue Nearby “.
It looks especially impressive at this time. “I think people are going to look at this, when the show starts, and just have that moment to think about the things we might have lost because of Covid,” Collins said. “That intimacy, that closeness, that experience of being so close to people you don’t know and at the same moment sharing the same music — and dancing together. That feeling of being part of something bigger than you.”
He said Donovan’s photographs highlight a culturally significant moment in Birmingham’s music history and club scene. “It is a wonderful discovery after all these years. This was such an important place for people, and it was captured by one of the greatest British photographers of the time.”
In November 1996, Donovan committed suicide. On investigation, it was found that he was suffering from severe depression related to the prescribed steroid treatment for eczema.
By that time, his son had sent the photos to Chris Wishart, founder of the House of God nightclub. They lay in the staircase of the Wishart house until Collins, founder of the Birmingham Music Archives, which documents and celebrates the city’s musical heritage, showed up last year to meet Wishart for a movie about the Que Club.
“I interviewed him for an hour and a half and he didn’t mention Terence coming to the club or the pictures. But as we were walking out the door he said “Jeez, I think you might be interested in this.” And I opened that drawer, and there was a Terrence Donovan picture box. They were just amazing.”
He couldn’t believe his eyes: “I’ve already taken a picture of the stairs.”