I am currently working on a presentation within the subject contextual studies. I came across this photographer and decided to share with you as I found him inspiring.
Richard Billingham began creating a memorable record of his family in the 1990’s. He started to take a series of photos of his family for paintings; a visiting examiner encouraged him to use these rather than his paintings as a best expression of his family. In 1996, Ray’s a laugh was published with hardly any text and mostly images. There were Images of Ray drinking home brewed beer, his parents fighting in their cramped and untidy council flat in West midlands. His photos capture a critical image of everyday life and everyday life of poverty in society and in families. So I picked some of my favorite photos from the Richard Billingham collection of ‘Rays a laugh’, I particularly like this photographer and all of the works in this book. It portrays family life in a real sense of everyday society. It shows the ups and downs, sadness, happiness, deprivation and the love of his family in these images.
There are times in the book he shows escapism where he photographs birds, he obviously went out of the flat where so much was probably annoying him to take photos of nature to take his mind of everyday life. The first image I have chosen was from the intimate lives text issued to us to me it shows Ray as clearly fed up and not listening and the mother as angry and having a go over something she feels passionate about. It shows they were having troubles in their marriage or whatever. I noticed a lot with Ray he looks dazed like he is in thought a lot and often looks fed up. As an alcoholic he probably had his reasons for drinking, maybe troubles in his past which were shining through on his family life then. From all these photos I have a sense that Richard loves his family especially his dad, he seemed to find him fascinating and saw him as a project. It may have also been a way of him getting things of his chest by hiding behind the lens, maybe making him feel disconnected from the situation to make it a little easier for him.
I closely relate to the images in this work and find this one of the most inspiring pieces I’ve seen out the artists discussing today. It raises awareness I feel, its quirky, inspirational, original but also familiar. The image of him next to the toilet seems to be him after a heavy night being sick, it shows him at his lowest and could be very embarrassing to most of us if we were in that situation. Showing an older man in this sort of despair makes you question how many other family homes in this country are in this situation and I bet a lot. What grasps me about the pictures is how real they are, in most family photos there is always almost a pose or happy scene but in these images it’s capturing what most albums would not want to portray. It shows the sadness of his family breakdown in his home, the mess of the council flat and his parents. The poverty they live in and how his dad sacrifices everything for some alcohol.
In the last two pictures you can see Ray depressed and the next one happy, this for me really shows the mood swings of someone with an addiction, it really captures the feeling of the home and you can almost imagine yourself sat there taking in the surroundings and vibes. The black and white photo is one of my favorites not only because of the black and white color but also because you can see him in a mirror it makes me notice that what’s in the mirror represents a different side to him, something not real. He is not happy at all, he is sad and the mirror is fake and almost showing the two faced side of Ray.
I chose the next photo of his brother and Ray because I found it comical, in a lot of families you kind of pick on each other, throwing balls but in this photo he just sits there like he does not care. It seems to be a strike back moment from his brother for all the rubbish he has put up with but then again you could probably just take it as fun but I see more of a serious side to it. More like he is hitting him in the face with that ball because once again he is drinking. In a lot of the photos it does seem excepted that Ray will drink rather than be with his family but I can sense they all love him and just put up with it.
In the black and white image of his dad staring back at him in bed I think this is truly great, its lie staring into the eyes of someone in a lot of emotional pain. He looks confused and depressed. You can almost see something troubling him and the effect of black and white adds to the detail of his skin and eyes like you can almost see into his thoughts.
With the last image I have chosen this one because it really does show the distance between his parents, it shows the marital breakdown in real life. You can tell it’s something Richard would of noticed or why would he have taken a picture of it? It must affect him and must make him frustrated as his dad won’t stop drinking to make things right. But he is behind that lens hiding away where he is disconnected between his family and the camera for me his art is like a memory for him to heal and look back on.
Richard Billinghams photography of his real family is a very inspirational one and maybe something a lot of people cane relate to or open their eyes up too. The photos are shot very well with great contrast and composition they show a story of his daily life in the 1990’s, its probably a fond memory of his which in turn makes it a fond memory of ours.
Here is a website with some of his other images that you may find of interest: