With an Eye for Beauty

By McAlpine, Alistair | The Spectator, June 7, 1997 | Go to article overview

With an Eye for Beauty


McAlpine, Alistair, The Spectator


Terence Donovan was a perfectionist. He believed that it was single mindedness that led to his success as a photographer. `You don't do something like this for money,' he said, and then added, I've never met anyone who's succeeded in life purely because they wanted the cash.'

Terence Donovan, who died last November, never believed in leaving anything to chance. Many years ago in Paris, he and David Bailey worked out the 480 things that can go wrong before the final print is attained. He believed in back up, but owning the best part of 100 cameras and as many different lenses does seem a trifle excessive. In truth, Terence was fascinated by cameras: how they looked, how they felt in his hand and, more importantly, how they worked. His collection is coming up for sale at Christie's, South Kensington, on Thursday, 12 June.

Terence Donovan was first and foremost a technician. His idea of a wonderful evening was to sit alone taking a camera apart, examining each piece and then putting it back together again. He was passionate about his cameras and required his assistants to handle them `as if they were the finest and most precious gems'. He hated his assistants wearing clumsy shoes because he could not bear them tripping over his equipment. Should some wretched assistant do this, the mild-mannered Terence Donovan gave forth a stream of vile language.

He would often say to me that he had the best possible job - `after all, I spend all day looking down a lens at some of the world's most beautiful women'. His respect for beauty was immense, his contempt for models who did not measure up to his professional standards equalled it. Many a lacklustre model would watch amazed as Terence took a 50 note from his pocket and held it in front of the camera's lens just to remind them why they were posing. He did this when photographing the Princess of Wales, saying at the same time, `Recognise the relative?'

Terence Donovan's cameras were to him, a skilled photographer, instruments of great beauty. To me, a man in whose hand even a scalpel would be more at home than a camera, they are objects of art. Looking through the Christie's catalogue, I came upon two lots that seemed to me visually outstanding, lots 76 and 78, both cameras made by the Gandolfi brothers. I was not surprised to find that they were Terence's favourite cameras.

Knowing little of the techniques of photography, I was, however, fascinated by the names of the cameras in his collection. …

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