Richard Billingham

Richard Billingham is an English artist and photographer. Born in Birmingham in 1970 he studied to be a painter at Bournville College of Art and then the University of Sunderland. He first came to the forefront with a candid photography collection on his family. It would later be added to and then published in a brilliant book ‘Ray’s A Laugh’ in 1996. The book is a look at the life he grew up in, showing the poverty throughout is apparent in the photographs and that he took the images on the cheapest film he could find. The images lack the focus and subtle balance of colours but this works with the message the photos send, which is a frank and authentic look at his family.

In 1997 he exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art with his show ‘Sensation’ which showed the art collection of Charles Saatchi, a supporter of the ‘Young British Artists’ movement. He would then be shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2001 for a solo show at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. In 2006 he exhibited a major new collection of photographs which was inspired by his visits to Dudley Zoo as a child. The series was titled ‘Zoo’ and was exhibited at the Compton Verney Art Gallery in Warwickshire. This interesting collection of images that captured the animals behind the glass or cages shows the sad nature of many of these animals in captivity and the loneliness suffered.


This first image of Billingham’s is part of his collection, Ray’s A Laugh from 1996, this image of his father, an alcoholic sat at the base of the toilet captures an awful moment from a child’s perspective. The collection of images from this series contrasts against what we all would consider ‘family photo’s’ the rawness and honesty in this image is a stark reminder of family life behind closed doors. The photographs initially started as a basis for his paintings although they remained a successful and authentic collection of photographs. It is an image of such obvious sadness and concern that we are taken by the content of the image, the content here is the essence of the photograph while the composition is interesting, by showing the door frames in a landscape orientation we are aware of the depth and scale of the subject which by showing him in context to the bathroom we get a more powerful image.


This second image is part of Billingham’s ‘Zoo’ collection, photographs inspired by visits to Dudley Zoo as a child. Similarly to the first image we have a strong sense of sadness. The similar compositions show the subject framed at the sides leading into the frame. The frontal view on the Panda really connects the viewer to the subject while the wide angle view connects the sadness and loneliness of this animal in captivity with the sparse nature of its surroundings.

I love Richard Billingham’s ability, especially in these images and many more to purvey emotion, the techniques used and mentioned above really connect the viewer to the subject. His images strike me with a strong sense of honesty and authenticity that allows me to connect with them on a basic level. It is with this sense of honesty and authenticity that I aim to consider when working on my fifth assignment, the act of recording a subject in their environment in a considered and interesting fashion that captures the essence in a way otherwise missed.


One response to “Richard Billingham

  1. Pingback: Assignment 5: People and Place on Assignment | Chris Payne's OCA Blog·

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