Richard Billingham

In 1996 these untitled images were assembled in an acclaimed book titled Ray’s A Laugh, published by Scalo. This book documents the intimate moments, emotions, and poverty of the Billingham family.

Billingham began photographing his family as reference material for paintings while he was an art student at the University of Sunderland six years ago. The subjects are his father Ray, a chronic alcoholic who rarely leaves the house, his obese and tattoed mother Liz, his unruly younger brother Jason, as well as a menagerie of pets with whom they all live in a cramped lower-class council flat.

“Sometimes Jason is there, sometimes he isn’t. He lives at a lot of different addresses. Now he’s got a kid. When I used to come home from college, he was in care. He ended coming back to Mum and Dad to do his A-levels, but after about a month he didn’t bother getting up in the mornings and just jacked it in. He said he had no freedom when he was in care. Now he has loads. He just didn’t have any motivation.”

“Dad was some kind of mechanic, but he’s always been an alcoholic. It has just got worse over the years. He gets drunk on cheap cider at the off license. It is so cheap now. He drinks alot at nights now and gets up late.”

“My Mum will be looking at the book and if she hasn’t got full concentration on it she will say, ‘Pass me a fag, Ray.’ They relate to the work but I don’t think they recognize the media interest in it, or the importance. I don’t think that they think anything of it, really. They are not shocked by it, or anything. We’re used to living in poverty.”

“In all these photographs I never bothered with things like the negatives. Some of them got marked and scratched. I just used the cheapest film and took them to be processed at the cheapest place. I was just trying to make order out of chaos.”

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