Richard Billingham – Ray’s A Laugh

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Richard Billingham, born 25th September 1970 in Birmingham started out his career as a painter and studied at Bourneville College of Art and the University of Sunderland. While he was studying painting he often took photographs of what he would like to paint, such as his family in Cradley Heath. Noticing that he had a talent for photography Billingham later published his study of his family like in the acclaimed book “Ray’s A Laugh” (1996). Ray’s a Laugh is a portrayal of the poverty and deprivation in which he grew up. The photographs, which were taken on the cheapest film he could find, provide brash colours and bad focus which adds to the authenticity and frankness of the series. Ray, his father, and his mother Liz, appear at first glance as grotesque figures, with the alcoholic father drunk on his home brew, and the mother, an obese chain smoker with an apparent fascination for nicknacks and jigsaw puzzles.

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However there when viewing the photographs the view feels a deep sympathy for Billingham’s parents, as they were ultimately very troubled human beings, yet their personalities shine through the photographs. . The critic Julian Stallabras describes Ray and Liz as embodiments of “what is in legend a particularly British stoicism and resilience, in the face of the tempest of modernity.”

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When analyzing the photographs myself they also touch me as I have empathy for what Richard Billingham was going through at the time with his parents separation. Although the photos aren’t of the best quality I think that it adds to the overall feel of the series, making them feel more like a family photo album; which is actually quite odd as the photographs were made so public. This type of intimate photography can also be found in photographers work such as Nan Gouldin, Corrine Day and Colin Gray who I have already looked at on this blog. However, with Richard Billinghams work there is a deep feeling of sympathy attached to the photos by seeing the deterioration of this man and his relationship with his family and his home brew.

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