Richard Billingham – Ray’s a Laugh

22nd January 2020

Take a look at Richard Billingham’s Ray’s a Laugh – a collection of family portraits originally taken as visual research for a painting project.

It’s important to make a distinction here between what we know through experience and verbal language and what is specifically visual.

OCA Foundations in Photography Course Folder pg117

WOW! The cheapest I could find this to buy is £160 but it is OK it covers postage as well!! I don’t think I will be adding this to my collection anytime soon unless I sell my house, hahahaha!

image from Amazon.co.uk

Below is a YouTube flip through of the book, ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ by Richard Billingham:

from YouTube posted by Angus Combie, 19th September, 2012

This is an excellent interview: Richard Billingham: ‘I just hated growing up in that tower block’ on the Guardians website, theguardian.com. Billingham talks about his life, family, photographs and the possibility of turning it all into a feature film.

The opening paragraphs explain his beginnings:

Richard Billingham didn’t take a photograph until he was 19. That was 25 years ago, when he was living with his alcoholic father, Ray, in a flat on the seventh floor of a council block in Cradley Heath in the Black Country, west of Birmingham. He’d just begun an art foundation course at Bournville College and was working every night to pay his way stacking shelves at the local Kwik Save supermarket.

The first pictures he took, with a camera bought on credit after he persuaded the shop assistant he was a librarian, were of geese and ducks in the park, “just to see if they would come out”. He then trained his viewfinder 

Tim Adams theguardian.com 13.03.2016

The book ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ show cases Billingham’s photographs of life living with his mum and dad, Liz and Ray. The images are quite disturbing for me as they contain images of domestic violence taking place, the physical scars after such an event has taken place and even the abuse of a cat as Ray throws it across the room.

The above notes tell the whole story from Billingham as an 18-19yr old Foundation student at Bournville College of Art in the Midlands, right through to the film ‘Ray and Liz’ in 2019. It includes information about his home life, life now with his own family and how the book and the film came about.

Billingham discusses how he had always wanted to be a painter since he was 4-5yrs old and as a student he wanted to make paintings about the tragic situation of his family life, the squalor, the drinking, the fighting, home life in general with the ‘nik-nak and all’ approach.

When Liz, his mother left home for a period of time because of Ray’s drinking, Ray took to his room and did not want to come out. At this time Billingham had already began to paint Ray’s portrait with acrylics on cardboard that he brought home from his work at Quick Save. Ray didn’t want to keep sitting still for Billingham so he started to take photographs as source material for his painting but they accidentally became artworks in their own right.

Because the images are taken with a disposable camera the quality of the images and their colours help to reflect the families social class and this when coupled with the now outdated fashion, the brilliant nik-nak objects in the backgrounds, the mess and squalor, and the subjects themselves we are now left with a very intense family life drama. All these components can only add to the shock feeling you receive when viewing the images. They make you feel and question the life of the family and I wanted to know more.

I love these powerful images even though they leave me cold because of my experiences with domestic violence.

An amazing series of shots.


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