Richard Billingham has photographed his family in intimate moments that challenge our biased preconceptions of residents in housing estates. The result is a compound of ethnographic investigations, family albums and formal, artistic deliberations.
A middle-aged couple embrace in an untidy, unmade bed. The diminutive man, dressed in grey and black has put his arm around an overweight woman in a gaily coloured dress. On a scratched and grubby shelf above the bed are soft toys and Barbie dolls, in the foot of the bed two dogs. The photograph is poorly lit and irregularly cropped; we can see neither all of the woman nor all of the white dog.
About the workThe picture is a portrait of Billingham's parents in their home. The slightly oblique angle and shaken quality suggest that the picture is a spur-of-the-moment snapshot capturing a tender moment between the parents. In theory this could be a picture from most people's photo albums – and then again: this is no typical family subject, such as a birthday, a cosy dinner or a holiday snap. For at the Billingham's the everyday is humdrum and far from fun.
Moreover the picture fails to meet the fundamental demands of family portraits: we cannot really see the parents' faces and the home does not seem to have been prepared for the shoot. Furthermore the photograph is titled "Untitled" – a clear indicator of modern art.
Billingham's art in generalWhile still an art student at the University of Sunderland Billingham began photographing his unemployed and marginalised family in their Birmingham home in the early 1990s. A native of the Midlands, a part of Great Britain that experienced an economic recession in the 1970s and 1980s, Billingham worked as a sales assistant in a supermarket after finishing his studies but continued taking pictures of his family.
Originally the photographs were meant to serve as sources for paintings but that never came to anything. Billingham used cheap film, long past its sell-by date, and had them developed at a nearby chemist's which resulted in the gaudy and stained appearance.
Literature"Ray's a Laugh" (Richard Billingham, Phyllis Rosenzweig), Scalo Publishers, 2000
Richard Billingham received a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the University of Sunderland in 1994. Here he began his project of.....