Richard Billingham

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Richard Billingham (born 25 September 1970)[1] is an English photographer and artist, film maker and art teacher. His work has mostly concerned his family, the place he grew up in the West Midlands, but also landscapes elsewhere.

Billingham is best known for the Photobook Ray's A Laugh (1996), which documents the life of his alcoholic father Ray, and obese, heavily tattooed mother Liz.[2][3] He has also published the collections Black Country (2003), Zoo (2007), and Landscapes, 2001–2003 (2008). He has made several short films, including Fishtank (1998)[4] and Ray (2016).[3] Billingham adapted the latter into his first feature film, Ray & Liz (2018), a memoir of his childhood.

He won the 1997 Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize (now Deutsche Börse Photography Prize)[5] and was shortlisted for the 2001 Turner Prize.[3] His work is held in the permanent collections of Tate,[6] the Victoria and Albert Museum,[7] and Government Art Collection[8] in London.

Billingham lives in Swansea on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales[9] and holds professorships at Middlesex University and the University of Gloucestershire.[3]


Billingham was born in Birmingham and studied as a painter at Bournville College of Art and the University of Sunderland.[3][10] He came to prominence through his candid photography of his family in Cradley Heath, a body of work later added to and published in the acclaimed book Ray's A Laugh (1996).[3] The photos were originally intended as studies for paintings. However, a tutor at Sunderland University came across them in a plastic bag and encouraged Billingham to display them as is.[9] Ray's a Laugh is a portrayal of the poverty and deprivation in which he grew up.[2] Billingham chose to use the cheapest film and development he could find. Ray, his father, and his mother Liz, appear at first glance as grotesque figures, with the alcoholic father drunk on his home brew, and the mother, an obese chain smoker with an apparent fascination for nicknacks and jigsaw puzzles.[11] However, there is such integrity in this work that Ray and Liz ultimately shine through as troubled yet deeply human and touching personalities. The critic Julian Stallabrass describes Ray and Liz as embodiments of "what is in legend a particularly British stoicism and resilience, in the face of the tempest of modernity."[11]

In 1996, Billingham had an exhibition at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television in Bradford, UK.[2] In 1997, he was included in the exhibition Sensation at the Royal Academy of Art which showcased the art collection of Charles Saatchi and included many of the Young British Artists.[3][12] Also in 1997, Billingham won the Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize (now Deutsche Börse Photography Prize).[5] He was shortlisted for the 2001 Turner Prize,[3] for his solo show at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham,[13] and others.[4]

In 1998, Billingham made his first documentary video, Fishtank, a study of his father filmed with a handheld camera. It was commissioned by Artangel and Adam Curtis for BBC Television and shown on BBC Two in December 1998.[3][4][14] Since 2011, Fishtank has been part of the Artangel Collection – 25 notable films available for loan, free of charge, to publicly funded UK museums and galleries.[15]

He has also made landscape photographs at places of personal significance around the Black Country, and more of these were commissioned in 2003 by the arts organisation The Public, resulting in a book.

In late 2006, Billingham exhibited a major new series of photographs and videos inspired by his memories of visiting Dudley Zoo as a child. The series, entitled Zoo, was commissioned by Birmingham-based arts organisation Vivid and was exhibited at Compton Verney Art Gallery in Warwickshire. A book of the work was published the following year.

In the following year, he created a series of photographs of "Constable Country", the area on the Essex / Suffolk border painted by John Constable. These were exhibited at the Town Hall Galleries, Ipswich.[16]

Billingham's work was included in the 2007 BBC television series The Genius of Photography, being the subject of part 3 of the "We Are Family" episode,[17] made by Wall to Wall Media.[18]

In 2009–2010, Billingham participated in a collective exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany titled: Ich, zweifellos.

Billingham wrote and directed his first feature film, Ray & Liz, in 2018. It is a memoir of his childhood and his parents, told in three separate time frames. Wendy Ide of The Guardian wrote: "It’s gruelling at times, but the film is extraordinary and unflinching. And remarkably, it’s made with as much love as anger."[19]

As of 2019, he lives on the Gower Peninsular in South Wales with his wife and three kids.[9] He holds professorships at the University of Gloucestershire and Middlesex University.[3]


Publications by Billingham[edit]

  • Ray's a Laugh.
    • Ray's a Laugh. Zürich: Scalo, 1996. ISBN 9783931141257. Edited by Michael Collins and Julian Germain.
    • Ray is'n Witz. Zürich: Scalo, 1996. ISBN 3-931141-25-X. French-language version.
    • Ray's a Laugh. Zürich: Scalo, 2000. ISBN 978-3908247371.
    • Ray's a Laugh. Books on Books No. 18. New York, NY: Errata Editions, 2014. ISBN 978-1935004356. With essays by Charlotte Cotton and Jeffrey Ladd.
  • Richard Billingham. Birmingham: Ikon Gallery; Paris: agnès b., 2000. ISBN 9780907594666. With an essay by Michael Tarantino. Exhibition catalogue. Photographs from Billingham's "series of family portraits (1990–1996), earlier black and white family photographs (1990–1991), a new series of urban landscapes (1992–1997), as well as video stills ... from Ray in Bed (1999), Playstation (1999), Liz Smoking (1998) and Tony Smoking Backwards (1998)."[citation needed]
  • Black Country. West Bromwich: The Public, 2003. ISBN 0-9540200-2-2.
  • Zoo. Birmingham: Vivid, 2007. Edition of 750 copies.
  • Richard Billingham: People, Places, Animals. Melbourne: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 2008. ISBN 9780977597772. With essays by Juliana Engberg, Rikke Hansen, and Outi Remes. Exhibition catalogue.
  • Landscapes, 2001–2003. Stockport: Dewi Lewis, 2008. ISBN 9781904587385. With an essay by Sacha Craddock.

Publications with contributions by Billingham[edit]

  • Strange Days: British Contemporary Photography. Milan: Charta, 1997. Edited by Gilda Williams. ISBN 9788881581382. Exhibition catalogue. Text in English and Italian.
  • Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection. London: Thames and Hudson, 1998. ISBN 978-0500280423. Sensation exhibition catalogue.


  • Fishtank (1998) – documentary video, 47 minutes, commissioned by Artangel and Adam Curtis for BBC television and shown on BBC Two in December 1998[4][20]
  • Liz Smoking (1998) – short documentary video
  • Tony Smoking Backwards (1998) – short documentary video
  • Ray in Bed (1999) – short documentary video
  • Playstation (1999) – short documentary video
  • Ray (2016), written and directed by Billingham – 30 minutes, part 1 of 3-part feature film
  • Ray & Liz (2018) – feature film


Significant group exhibition[edit]


Billingham's work is held in the following permanent collections:


  • Outi Remes "Reinterpreting unconventional family photography: Richard Billingham’s Ray’s a Laugh series" in Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism (Vol. 34, No. 6, 2007) 16–19.
  • Juliana Engberg, Rikke Hansen and Outi Remes Richard Billingham: People, Places, Animals. (Southbank, Australia: Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, 2007). ISBN 0-9775977-7-6.


  1. ^ "Richard Billingham – Panoramic". Towner Art Gallery. Retrieved 9 November 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "Keeping it in the family". The Daily Telegraph. London. 19 October 1996. Archived from the original on 26 February 2016. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Adams, Tim (13 March 2016). "Richard Billingham: 'I just hated growing up in that tower block'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Turner Prize 2001 artists: Richard Billingham". Tate. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  5. ^ a b c "About The Photography Prize". The Photographers' Gallery. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Richard Billingham: born 1970". Tate. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  7. ^ a b "Untitled". Victoria and Albert Museum. Retrieved 4 July 2017.
  8. ^ a b "1 works found for Richard Billingham". Government Art Collection. Retrieved 5 July 2017.[permanent dead link]
  9. ^ a b c Adams, Tim (23 February 2019). "Richard Billingham: 'Statistically, I should be in prison, dead or homeless'". The Guardian.
  10. ^ Perkin, Corrie (17 December 2007). "Shooting his family, other animals". The Australian. News Limited. Retrieved 27 July 2008.
  11. ^ a b Julian Stallabrass, High Art Lite: British Art in the 1990s, Verso, 2001, pp. 350–1.
  12. ^ Royal Academy of Art, Sensation, 1997, pp. 52–7.
  13. ^ Button, Virginia (2003). "Turner Prize 2001: Shortlisted artists, Richard Billingham". Turner Prize History. Tate Britain. Retrieved 7 August 2014.
  14. ^ Bennett, Oliver (28 November 1998). "Richard Billingham". The Independent. London. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  15. ^ "Artangel". Artangel. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  16. ^ Richard Moss. "Culture 24, Richard Billingham's Constable Photographs at the Town Hall Galleries Ipswich".
  17. ^ "We Are Family". BBC. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  18. ^ "The Genius of Photography". Wall to Wall Media (production company). Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  19. ^ Ide, Wendy (10 March 2019). "Ray & Liz review – Richard Billingham's extraordinary family album brought to life". The Guardian.
  20. ^ "Fishtank: Richard Billingham". Video Data Bank. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  21. ^ "Richard Billingham". Saatchi Gallery. Retrieved 6 July 2017.

External links[edit]