Through contextual studies at university this week we looked at the photographers who turned conventional family photographs on their heads, or “a new genre of impolite work.”. Amongst many photographers including the likes of Richard Billingham, Yang Yong and Nan Goldin, I found the work of Colin Gray the most uncomfortable viewing.
“In 2000 the photographer Colin Gray began to record what happened after his mother, Rene, had a stroke.
The photographs on these pages capture, in Gray’s words ‘my family’s quiet agony’– his mother’s initial hospitalisation, the four-year period when his father, Ron, cared for Rene, and eventually his mother’s death in 2004. But they are also, ultimately, a touching tribute to his parents’ love for one another and his father’s resilience.
Gray, a commercial and fine-art photographer, says he began taking the pictures as a way to help him cope. ‘When I first started taking the pictures I was just making sense of what was happening,’ he says. ‘I didn’t intend them to be shown, and for a year or two after my mum died I didn’t do anything with them.
‘It was a slow process of getting over her death, but then I started thinking perhaps I should use them for something.’ Gray’s photographs have been made into a book, In Sickness and in Health (Steidl), and are on show as part of a touring exhibition at the Ferens Art Gallery in Gray’s home town of Hull from next month.”
However, through looking through Gray’s photographs on his website, ‘The Parents’ has quite a stark contrast compared to “In Sickness and in Health”, showing the happy times of the family, and the relationship that his parents had. This series has humour, and makes you laugh at what a quirky couple they were. I suppose they were always used to Colin asking him to take their photographs so photos staged like this were just ordinary occurrences. I really like the way that colour is presented in this series too, contrasting against the lack of colour in “In Sickness and in Health”. The photographs below are titled (top-bottom) “Hull Underwater 1991” and “Heaven and Hull”; also presenting humour in some of the titles themselves.
However, when looking at the photos in “In Sickness and in Health”, I just find myself overwhelmed with utter sadness. Being an over-emotion person myself, I just find the photos heartbreaking,and I find myself welling up at nearly every photograph. It makes me realise that in the future I will have to deal with this sort of situation and loss, and they they do make me question my own, and my loved ones mortality. But I think think that there is a certain sort of courage on Colin Gray for taking these photos, and I respect what he has achieved. It was hard for me to just view the photos, never mind take them.