Newly discovered photographs of 1990s rave culture taken by fashion photographer Terence Donovan shortly before his death are set to be on public display for the first time.
Intimate snaps of revelers lost in the sounds of Que Club in Birmingham, a concert venue honored by everyone from David Bowie and Blur to Daft Punk and Run-DMC, are considered some of the last photographs Donovan took. .
Hidden in a drawer in Wolverhampton for 25 years, the images mark a “very unusual” change of subject for the photographer, who made a name for himself in the 1960s by capturing “swinging London” and models such as Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton.
“At the time he took these photos, he was still a photographer for Vogue do fashion shoots and take photos of the rich and famous, ”said Jez Collins, curator of the upcoming exhibition, The Qué, which will show 10 of the 65 newly discovered photos at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in April. “He photographed people like Princess Diana and musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Ian Dury – but to my knowledge he had never photographed a club environment and ordinary and ordinary people.”
Donovan was approaching 60 when, in January 1996, he turned his focus to the dance and rave culture of the Que Club at the behest of his son, a student at the University of Birmingham who was DJing there. “He would have been completely out of his comfort zone in terms of the music, which had a punchy beat, with a lot of drugs taken in the dark,” Collins said. “I think the subject and the building itself intrigued him.”
The Que Club was housed in a former church, the cavernous Grade II-listed Methodist Central Hall, and Donovan attended a techno music night known as the House of God. Turning in black and white, on a smoky dance floor, “he captured something of great beauty. The photographs are truly evocative of what clubbing culture looked like at the time.
As well as revealing the range of subcultures in the club – punks with Mohicans, shirtless skinheads, girls in tight dresses and youth in sweat tops, “these photographs show the intimacy of the dancefloor, the unbridled expression of the people having fun, dancing together in an enclosed space ”.
They seem particularly poignant at the moment. “I think people will watch this, when the show opens, and just have this moment to think about things that we may have lost due to Covid,” Collins said. “This intimacy, this closeness, this experience of being very close to people you don’t know and sharing the same music at the same time – and dancing together. That feeling of being a part of something bigger than yourself.
Donovan’s photos highlight a culturally significant moment in the history of Birmingham’s music and clubbing scene, he said. “It’s an incredible discovery after all these years. It was an important place for people, and it was captured by one of Britain’s foremost photographers of the time.
In November 1996, Donovan committed suicide. Upon investigation, it emerged that he was suffering from severe depression, related to steroid treatment prescribed for his eczema.
By this time, her son had sent the photos to Chris Wishart, one of the founders of the House of God night club. They lay in the drawer of Wishart’s house until Collins, founder of the Birmingham Music Archive, which documents and celebrates the city’s musical heritage, showed up last year to interview Wishart for a film 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 photographs. But as we walked through the door he said, “Jez, I think this might interest you. And I opened that drawer, and there was this box of Terence Donovan photographs. They were simply breathtaking.
He could hardly believe his eyes: “Actually, I took a picture of the drawer.