Richard Billingham

(b. 1970)

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(1970– )

British photographer and video artist, born in Birmingham. He studied painting at the University of Sunderland, graduating in 1994, but discovered that the photographs of his family he was taking as source material attracted greater interest than the paintings. In 1996 they were exhibited at the Anthony Reynolds Gallery in London and a year later in the *‘Sensation’ exhibition. Taken spontaneously with cheap camera and film they nonetheless make a powerful visual impact when blown up and mounted in a gallery environment. The family situation they depict is a difficult one. The father, Ray, is an alcoholic, Richard's brother is addicted to drugs and video games, and his mother, a massive figure whose tattoos are a striking visual motif of the series, evidently has a stormy relationship with the father. In spite of all this the works have a considerable aesthetic appeal which derives partly from the colourful accumulation of visual clutter, partly from Billingham's great skill in capturing the moment. Nancy Roth has commented that ‘The results that Billingham achieves by taking his camera into the turbulent terrain of his own family are arguably as estranging and demanding of their viewers as an alien landscape.’ A book of photographs, Ray's a Laugh (the title refers to a 1950s radio comedy), was also published in 1996. Billingham has also worked as a landscape photographer.

Further Reading

N. Roth, ‘Closeness as Metaphor’, Afterimage, vol. 28 (2000)

Subjects: Art.

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