Example research essay topic: Critical Analysis Of Richard Billingham’s Photography – 960 words

Richard Billingham has established himself as one
of the quintessential British artists of the
1990s. While in many respects, his aesthetic style
remains distinctive from that of other young
British artists, his work concerns issues often
explored by his contemporaries. In this essay, I
will discuss a selection of what I believe to be
his most interesting and definative photographs,
in addition to a comparison of Billinghams work,
ideology, and myth with those of principal yBas.
The son of an unemployed mechanic and an obese
housewife, Richard Billingham was born in 1970
near Birmingham, England. He received his Bachelor
of Arts in Fine Arts in 1994 from the University
of Sunderland, where as an undergraduate, he took
the photographs that have become his best-known
works. These large, colorful, energetic and
uniformly untitled prints were taken over a period
of seven years and compiled into a photoessay
entitled Rays a Laugh. These same images were
included in numerous gallery and museum
exhibitions, including MoMAs New Photography
exhibition in 1996, and the infamous Sensation
exhibit at the Royal Academy in 1997 and at the
Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1999.

intended to serve as studies for paintings,
photographed with an ordinary auto-focus camera,
and developed at the local drug store, Billingham
did not consider himself much of a photographer
and was largely unconcerned with the technical
formality of photography: 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. Accordingly, this lax method
has not gone unnoticed by Billinghams critics:
Almost every rule of photography is badly broken:
pictures are out of focus, over-exposed, printed
with a grain so visible that the image beneath is
almost completely obscured… on some very basic
level, Billinghams may well be the worst
photographs Ive ever seen professionally
published, and never mind for now that theyre also
some of the best. In this respect, Billingham
differs greatly from many young British artists
who exhibit near-obsessive technical prowess.

instance, Ron Muecks superrealistic sculptures,
Jenny Savilles mammoth nudes, and Mark Wallingers
equine portraits all consistently wow their
audience by technique alone, inviting the viewer
to endlessly wonder how much talent, how much
training, and how many hours of affectionate labor
went into the production of the pieces presented
before them. The unrestrained aesthetic realism in
the aforementioned artists work is part of a
characteristic which seems to be present
throughout the breadth of the yBas creations; as
observed by Jerry Saltz, . . .the YBA aesthetic —
if reduced to its simplest component — is
realism; some might say, realism with a vengeance.
We may view Billinghams disconcern with
photographic technique as a form of realism itself
– one which reflects the typical use of the medium
by every day people in every day life. From this
perspective, Billinghams approach is in perfect
accordance with that of his British
contemporaries. By removing the professional
qualities from the prints, Billingham removes the
artistic pretense from the photographer – With no
backdrops, no lighting, no experienced models or
professional processing, Billingham has no
physical advantage over any amateur photographer,
and all that remains to differentiate between the
product of the master and the product of the
novice is the intangible integration of talent
which Billingham undoubtedly possesses.

it is not simply how he takes his photos, but what
he is photographing which plays an enormous role
in the realism of Billinghams work. The
photographs are most often taken in his parents
home, a cramped lower-middle-class British housing
project. The rooms are brightly painted and
wallpapered, shelves and table tops often
cluttered with seemingly miscellaneous and
inconsequential ornaments, an aesthetic which
connotes both liveliness and idle desperation. As
described by Jim Lewis, Billinghams home seems, at
first glance, to be an almost comically horrible
place to be, with its airless rooms stuffed full
of broken-down furniture, its violence and
abjection, and hopelessness, and mess. Yet there
is a positive energy that perseveres in these
images, and this paradox of comedy and tragedy, of
animation and stagnation exists as a constant
theme in Billinghams work. The subjects are nearly
exclusively his parents, Liz and Ray, his younger
brother, Jason, and their menagerie of house pets,
though there is an obvious concentration on his

Billingham documents Rays chronic
alcoholism in its various manifestations, the less
ambiguous shots of which include Ray lying next to
the toilet bowl, several prints of Ray taking
swigs of booze, and a few scuffles between Ray and
Liz (This puts an interesting twist on Billinghams
amateur photographic mannerisms: In some cases it
looks as if he was none too sober himself when he
pressed the shutter button (Lewis)). While the
images from Rays a Laugh form a narrative, they
are simultaneously circuitous, in accordance with
the lives of his subjects. As described by
Billingham, There really isnt a beginning or an
end. My family always stays the same, they watch
the same things, they have the same patterns to
their lives, they talk about the same things
(Lingwood). Such troublesome depictions of Rays
alcoholism raise several questions regarding the
relationship between Billingham and Ray; as
photographer and subject, but most urgently, as
son and father. Billingham [takes] pictures that
maintain a familiarity with their subject while at
the same time [uphold] the cold-blooded distance
of an observer (Tsingou).

It is not Billinghams
reaction to attempt to catch his father as he
falls face-first out of the easychair and onto the
floor – rather, he snaps a photo of it. Likewise,
the shot of Ray over the toilet inspires the same
thought: Its a remarkable photograph, claus ….

Research essay sample on Critical Analysis Of Richard Billinghams Photography