During 1996 British photographer Richard Billingham made the most prolific works of his career. The series, titled Ray’s A Laugh, captured his parents at home in their tower block in the West Midlands.
During 1996 British photographer Richard Billingham made the most prolific works of his career. The series, titled Ray’s A Laugh, captured his parents at home in their tower block in the West Midlands. The works merge brutality, tenderness with stark honesty, and resulted in Billingham winning the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize and receiving a nomination for the Turner Prize in 2001. In recent years he started photographing his own family and today the Guernsey Photography Festival will open an exhibition that showcases these works alongside the images of his parents. AnOther spoke to the artist to discuss the work he has produced over the past 15 years.
How does it feel looking back at the Ray's A Laugh (1996) series, 15 years after they were produced?
The same as it always did really. I see them formally. The good ones – the ones that are part of the Rays a Laugh series – I look at as ‘works’ or ‘pieces’ or whatever and I don’t really get nostalgic about them. If I look at them I guess I am looking to see whether or not they are still ‘good’ as works and also maybe how they relate other work I have made since.
Does it bring back any specific memories of your parents?
Those ones that are part of the Rays a Laugh series or, in other words, those that have been released and what the public see, don’t bring back specific memories. Well, not really. But if I look at other ones that I have taken and that are not as good if you like, ones that were edited out, then they do bring back memories as they are more like family snaps. They don’t have so many of the pictorial qualities and meanings of the others and so I see my family in them a lot more.
You will be displaying a new series of photographs of your own family alongside Ray's A Laugh. How does it feel viewing both series of works together?
I haven’t shown both bodies of work together before so until I see them I don’t know! The old family photographs from Rays a Laugh I am showing as 4 x 6 inch size prints on a table or rather in a glass case like how you might see something displayed archivally in a museum. There will be about 100 of them (depending on the size of the case they are making). The newer ones are printed and framed life size. The older Rays a Laugh prints in the case will be replicas of my original ‘working’ prints- the ones I got back from the chemist when the original roles of films were processed.
Did you approach capturing your own family in a different way to photographing your parents?
I don’t think so, well, not in terms of the cameras used and the snapshot or spontaneous way they are taken. The approach is pretty similar in that way. The new ones are all made on film. I have not used any digital cameras as I still find them very difficult to use. They make me look at things with a different kind of attention I think. Digital cameras always have a screen on the back of them nowadays that enables you to see your photograph as soon as you’ve taken it and that distracts me. I end up looking at the picture I’ve just taken and trying to better it. And as soon as I start doing that, the ‘moment’ is lost.
What else will you be working on after the Guernsey Photography Festival?
Recently I have been writing scripts for short films that are based mainly on my own experiences and observations. I’m 40 now and maybe age has started to make me reflect on my life!
Text by Isabella Burley