Friday, 22 October 2021

Initial Research: Richard Billingham


Richard Billingham was an art student who took photographs of his parents (Ray and Liz) originally as studies for paintings.  'A tutor on Billingham’s art degree course at Sunderland University came across the photographs in a plastic bag and Billingham ended up displaying them in all their flash-lit squalor: toothless and shirtless Ray cradling pop bottles of home brew; Liz, with her lavishly tattooed slabs of arms and vast floral print frocks, lost in her jigsaw puzzles or TV dinners. Taken together – “Ray’s a Laugh” is what Billingham called them – they seemed to provide a tragicomic through-the-keyhole of degraded post-Thatcherite Britain.' (Adams, 2019)  These photographs ended up in the 1997 Saatchi Sensation show.  Billingham's parents both died prematurely and in 2019 Billingham made a film about his parents and childhood - please see the trailer below

Billingham came from an impoverished and difficult background and managed to 'get himself onto a pre-degree art course and then to university, all while stacking shelves at a supermarket to pay his way.'  (Fullerton, 2016) Much of Billingham's subsequent work is about his family and the urban landscape he grew up in.  The two images below are of his Father using mixed media.  

Billingham did not intend to become a photographer and he was offered a chance to a book of his photos and Billingham stated; 'I had this opportunity to publish about 50 of them in a book, I wasn’t sure about doing it because I didn’t want to be classed as a photographer – I didn’t want to be pigeonholed. I wanted to be an artist. I talked to a friend from Sunderland, and he said ‘you might as well do the book. Francis Bacon was a furniture designer before he became an artist… if you do the book of photographs, well, photography is closer to painting than furniture design’. (Macdonald, 2007).  Billingham still makes films, photographs, and teaches.  

I have looked at the work of Billingham here as from his work there is a sense of the time that these were taken and this is the same time as I was growing up, Billingham was born in 1970, I was born in 1974 and so the backdrop of the photos are familiar to me although my childhood was not like this, it was chaotic in a different way and through photography, I found a kind of salvation behind the camera.  These images were important to my photography education when they came out 30 or so years ago, they showed something to me about photography and how it could be used to tell a personal story, I did not need fancy equipment, just me and my camera.  A true inspiration. 


Adams, T., 2019. Richard Billingham: ‘Statistically, I should be in prison, dead or homeless’. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 October 2021].

Fullerton, E., 2016. Down and Out and Back Again: Richard Billingham’s Photographic Past Takes on New Life – [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 22 October 2021].

Macdonald, G., 2007. Richard Billingham | Photoworks. [online] Photoworks. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 October 2021].

No comments:

Post a Comment