Defining Documentary – Richard Billingham

And so it begins, first few blog posts done and reading the initial few pages there is some new terminology and new names to research. A few familiar faces to make me feel both relieved and dread as I remember picking up Camera Lucida and sitting with a thesaurus in the other hand….still onwards and upwards…

Despite not starting the coursework as promptly as I should I have kept in touch with exhibitions, publications and talks and will get around to writing them up and adding them to the research category. Newer name for me to look at is Robbie Cooper; I was introduced to the photo-book Rays a Laugh by Richard Billingham a few years back and found it really interesting on many levels; they were intimate personal photographs of his closest family members, there was no censorship, there was no posing, the images portray what was there, he had a no holds barred approach. What I later found out was that these were never taken with intent to publish as photographs. Billingham had always wanted to be a painter and the random snaps were intended to be reference only for his paintings. Who knows how he would have translated these on canvas? Would he have softened the impact of the flying cat and dishevelled parents, used artistic licence to add a more “palacial” backdrop or would his paintings have been as brutally honest?

I did find this super YouTube video showing the book  in all its glory.

What I like about this book is that it shows the strength of the images, you need no captions to feel the undercurrent of emotions and their circumstances, that the sequence of images reveal occasional tension, but obvious affection between people and animals. The interspersed shots of birds indicate to me that there was more to life than the claustrophobic flat.

At first I did wonder, like many, if Billingham was exploiting his family, taking advantage of being the insider to achieve such intimate shots, but then I stopped and considered the photographs I have taken over the years and realise that the drunken friends, naked children, harmless stumbles are all taken with affection and with no malicious intent and, if not taken with express permission at the time, are regarded as “fair game” within ordinary life. Permission was obviously given after for them to be used in this fashion and I found it quite refreshing that once done:

He no longer takes their pictures. To continue now that they have become objects of curiosity would, he said, indeed be exploitation.


Angus Crombie (2012) Richard Billingham ray’s a laugh. Available at: (Accessed: 11 October 2016).
In-line Citation:
(Angus Crombie, 2012)

Chesshyre, R. (2001) Meet the parents. Available at: (Accessed: 11 October 2016).
In-line Citation:
(Chesshyre, 2001)