Example research essay topic: Critical Analysis Of Richard Billingham’s Photography – 1,008 words

… trophobic and disorienting; still, one might
notice that Billingham chose to photograph the old
man and then publish the photograph, rather than
immediately picking him up and cleaning him off
(Lewis). Billinghams behavior can be regarded as
one of callousness and distance, or perhaps one of
simple routine. As stated by Gordon Burn, every
night [Billingham] came in from college and Ray
would be lying passed-out on the bed; checking his
breathing was always the first thing he did. So
taking pictures was also a way of preserving him a
bit at the start. Seeing him on his back in the
toilet was — is — an accepted part of family
life (Burn).

Accordingly, his family regards
poverty as an accepted part of family life, and as
a result, do not fully comprehend the significance
of Billinghams photos; “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
(ArtSeenSOHO).” Yet there is an unmistakable
affection for his subjects, despite such an
apparent emotional distance: as noted by Richard
Cork, the judge of the Citibank Private Bank
Photography Prize (which was awarded to Billingham
in 1997), [Billinghams] shocking frankness is
seasoned with love as well. Such a dichotomy is
inherent in the medium of photography itself, a
notion inseparable from Billinghams work, and
acutely explicated by Lewis: photography is
automatically exploitative of its subjects, yet it
can be agreed that we take pictures of the things
we adore. Thus, Billingham shows his love for his
family simply by exploiting them as subjects.
Conversely, just as Billingham seems distant
despite his love for his family, so does his
family seem distant towards him.

In only a few of
his photographs do his subjects even seem to be
aware of his presence, which perhaps can be
considered reflective of a family dynamic wherein
the members are continually off-guard by nature of
their relation… However, considering the size of
the rooms and the ruthless flash of Billinghams
camera, this oblivion remains a notable quality.
Additionally, a considerable number of the prints
are spontaneous shots (including one of Jason
pegging Ray in the head with a tennis ball, and
another of Ray throwing one of the cats across the
living room) which would lead one to believe that
Billingham simply sat in his living room and
waited, camera in hand, for something to happen,
and while it says something about his parents
oblivion that they act like hes not there, it says
something even stronger about his own self-imposed
emotional distance (Lewis). Ive always been fond
of conflict in art, and it is this underlying
constant of contradiction in Richard Billinghams
work that I find so appealing; primarily the limbo
between distance and closeness, which I believe is
what makes Billinghams work so unique. While
artists like Nan Goldin and Walker Evans have
executed similar intimate portraits of rather
eccentric individuals (and I must confess I am not
terribly familiar with the entire breadth of
either artists work, and whatever judgments I make
regarding must be considered accordingly) it seems
that their photographs lack the spontaneity and
honesty that I find in Billinghams photographs. I
suspect this may be due to the form of the
photograph itself, rather than the content:
Goldins photographs are consistently good
photography… the classical lighting and
composition makes them appear staged, though her
work has been praised for its realism (Although
for me, the content does play a part…

perhaps I
am more conservative than others, but I dont often
find myself casually in a room with a masturbating
friend). One photograph which I believe to be an
effective representation of Billinghams style is a
print of Liz sitting on the living room sofa,
working on a jigsaw puzzle. This image, though
photographed in Billinghams previously mentioned
disregard of professional techniques, remains a
testimony to Billinghams skillful eye. The
composition is sophisticated, with a concentration
on color, pattern and texture. The chaos of colors
of Lizs floral-printed moo moo follows down to the
colorful tattoos on her forearms, and further to
the confetti of puzzles pieces laying in her lap
and sprawled out upon the table. This disorder
seems to reflect the chaos of life in the
Billingham household; its liveliness, its
violence, its humor, its disarray — its

The vibrant colors inspire a sort of
radiance and happiness, which charmingly contrast
against the considerably darker image of an obese
woman, almost pathetically killing time by
laboring over those tiny colored cardboard shapes.
This contrast, between the mirthful and
depressing, is also present in Billinghams print
of the dog licking crumbs off the linoleum — it
is a comical image; the absurd crop, Lizs mangy
fluffy white slippers, the wide-eyed dog seemingly
attempting to squeeze his nose under the
refrigerator to lap up whatever assortment of dirt
and hardened morsels lie there — and this comedy
inspires a fondness for the subjects in the
viewer, as is the nature of comedic characters and
their relationship with the audience. Yet the
situation, the fact that the dog has resorted to
licking crumbs off the floor, is really quite
pitiable, and in being pitiable, becomes
exploitative. As stated by Lewis, What makes some
photographs great is precisely the balance they
strike between devouring their subject and adoring
it, and the surprise they inspire at the idea that
whatever theyre picturing can bear the weight of
just that contradiction (Lewis). Such is
undoubtedly the case in Rays a Laugh. As described
by Burn, It is a brilliant essay on the
psychopathology of family life which is brave
enough to suggest that destitution — more:
squalor and degradation — can produce images that
are not only not ugly, but actually galvanizing
and beautiful..

Research essay sample on Critical Analysis Of Richard Billinghams Photography