MA Fashion Curation students lead on Terence Donovan in The Que Club exhibition
In collaboration with The Terence Donovan Archive, LCF presents Terence Donovan in The Que Club, an online collection of archival imagery highlighting the work of one of Britain’s best known photographers, Terence Donovan.
Terence Donovan in The Que Club offers a glimpse into Birmingham’s Que Club, a converted church hall which welcomed stars such as David Bowie and Daft Punk to its stage in the 90s. Throughout its 30-year history, The Que Club became the ultimate rave scene for lovers of techno, jungle, drum and bass and Britpop throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Established in 1997, The Terence Donovan Archive holds nearly a million images documenting Donovan’s three-decade career in photography, dating from 1959 to 1996. The Archive features a huge body of work, from commissioned portraits of Diana Princess of Wales and Jimi Hendrix to high profile fashion shoots.
Led by LCF MA Fashion Curation students Chloe McDonald, Laura Aguilera, Leticia de Toledo and Xinyi Zhou, the exhibition showcases the images for the first time since they were taken in January 1996. In a conversation with the students, Donovan’s son Terry recalls the ‘powerful evening’ his father accompanied him to House of God. The project follows on from LCF's Subcultures: Then and Now theme, which in 2019 explored the history and evolution of subcultural style with east London exhibition, Streetstyle: From Teddy Boys to Grime Kids.
“A departure from Donovan’s usual, more glamorous surroundings, this series of images taken in The Que Club capture the unique collision of fashion subcultures that came together over the course of one evening. It also seems an apt, and particularly poignant time to bring fresh eyes and a new scrutiny to these pictures; seeing crowds mixing freely and moving together truly does feel like viewing a moment from the past. The Archive is delighted to have worked with London College of Fashion to analyse this particular moment of club culture and the unpolished exuberance of an iconic club night.” - Alex Anthony, Archivist at The Terence Donovan Archive
Tell us about the project and collaboration - how did this come about and can you tell us about your involvement?
Chloe: We were presented with the opportunity to research and exhibit the Donovan images as a part of the Collaborative Unit of our master’s degrees. The brief from the Terence Donovan Archive presented us with the images, the date and place they were taken, other than that the images needed to be contextualised. As a team we aimed to contextualise the images in terms of the cultural and historical context in which they were taken – looking at the history of the club, the fashion at the time and personal experiences. My involvement in the project was as a researcher, curator and interviewer.
Leticia: This project was first presented to me through our Collaborative Unit at UAL. During this unit, we collaborate with students from different MAs on an industry project. The Terence Donovan Archive project called my attention because of the possibility of collaborating with the archive, learning more about fashion and subcultures in England during the '90s and experimenting with curating a virtual exhibition. The pictures were also exciting and intriguing, as you could recognize different subcultures within the same group of partygoers, and everyone looked relaxed and like there were having fun.
What does the archive represent to you?
Chloe: The archive represents the world around us in its most vulnerable sense. Donovan was a fantastic photographer who was able to see the world in a way that many of us could not, and through his photography he was able to share that. Although we all know Terence Donovan as an amazing fashion photographer, these images push our understanding of him and his work further – his ability to capture the emotions and spirit of a moment is incredible, and I think that these images really showcase that.
Leticia: Visiting the Terence Donovan Archive was the highlight of this project. It was incredible to see the picture in person and meeting both Diana and Alex, who showed us the archive and told us more about Terry's history. Archives are supposed to preserve history and document our times, but to me, the most fantastic thing about any archive is the possibility of discovering hidden secrets. Just like the pictures in this exhibition, which had been stored for decades and never seen before, until Professor De La Hey noticed them.
This is the first time these images have been shared publicly since they were taken in 1996 – how have you been able to cast your minds back to this time to understand and appreciate the work from Terence fully?
Chloe: We undertook a lot of research surrounding the time in which the images were taken, specifically focusing on the rave culture of the late 1990s. We were able to find films and documentaries that helped us understand the time more. What I believe helped the most were the interviews we conducted with people who frequented the House of God night club and were a part of that scene. It really helped us ground these images and understand the live experience of those nights. Speaking with Terence’s son who was DJing there that night really helped us understand the images from Donovan’s point of view as well.
Leticia: One of the goals of our exhibition was to understand the people pictured in those images and to achieve that, we spoke to a few partygoers who used to frequent the Que Club at that time. It was incredible to hear their experiences and hear from them what we already noticed through Terry's lens: how welcoming the club felt, like they had found their place, a sense of belonging. The exciting thing about these photographs is how it was taken when cameras weren't as prevalent at night clubs as it is today, but Terence still managed to make everyone feel at ease and pose for the pictures.
How would you describe Terence Donovan's work in 3 words?
Chloe: Emotive, Raw and Alluring.
Leticia: Intriguing, Funny and Sensible.