Photographic work included in the exhibition 'Who's Looking at the Family', Barbican Art Gallery, London, (26 May–4 Sep 1994), selected by Val Williams, Carol Brown and Brigitte Lardinois.

Billingham, Richard ORCID: 0000-0002-6474-5656 (1994) Photographic work included in the exhibition 'Who's Looking at the Family', Barbican Art Gallery, London, (26 May–4 Sep 1994), selected by Val Williams, Carol Brown and Brigitte Lardinois. [Show/Exhibition]

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A large black and white photographic triptych, made by Billingham of his father, was included in the exhibition 'Who's Looking at the Family', Barbican Art Gallery, London, (26 May–4 Sep 1994), selected by Val Williams, Carol Brown and Brigitte Lardinois. This was Billingham's first publicly exhibited work. The exhibition is now considered a landmark in the history of British Photography. According to writer Tim Hilton, Val Williams delivered a bleak vision of human relations whose overall impression was that “the family bond represents tyranny, loneliness, mayhem and despair”. Val William's has written "...Who's Looking at the Family was an attempt to prise the lid off the family, to see its secrets and lies, as well as its comedies and joys.” Besides Billingham, other artists included Tina Barney, Bruce Gilden, Jim Goldberg, Susan Lipper, Sally Mann, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth, Larry Sultan, John Stezaker and Martin Parr. The exhibition was opened by film director Mike Leigh. There was an illustrated catalogue to the exhibition with text by Val Williams. In 2013, the photo journal 'Photoworks' dedicated issue 20 to the 1994 exhibition. The issue was called 'Family Politics'. Billingham was invited to write a short reflection on the 1994 exhibition and he stated the following: "For Who's Looking at the Family I exhibited a large, out of focus, black and white triptych of my father, Ray, an alcoholic. The images were part of a larger body of photographs I made of him a few years earlier whilst on an Arts Foundation Course in the Midlands. I was a painting student but would often take photographs as research material to paint from later on. Ray had always drunk but began to drink more heavily after being made redundant from his factory job c1980. He drank through boredom more than anything else but it got worse and by 1990 my mother, Liz, moved out of the high rise flat where we lived and got another flat from the council in a neighbouring tower- block. Once Liz had left, Ray spent all his time in the once marital bedroom drinking strong homebrew, bought down daily by a visiting neighbour (and enabler) called Sid who lived on the top floor. Sid would also cash Ray’s dole and pay his bills each week at the local Post Office and Ray soon stopped going outside. I pretty much got on with my own life but when I left College each day, I did sometimes fear Ray might be dead when I got in. Although he still had his faculties, he was frail, drank a lot and never ate. He didn’t want a TV and spent his time looking into the mirror, looking out of the window or listening to the radio. He was 59 and seemed to be mulling over his life, what it could have been/what it had become. Ray’s room began to take on an outward expression of his inner life and I had a strong urge to make paintings about the situation. His room was meagrely furnished with few traces of Liz but to me at the time, the sparse objects still remaining seemed to take on symbolic significance- the glow of the electric fire, an old key, his beer stained glass, two litre home brew bottles, a nub end, the oval dressing table mirror or a teenage photo of Liz on the windowsill. I took photographs that often looked for various spatial arrangements of him and objects within the room, making little narratives about his condition. Although thinking about potential paintings I was probably, in my own way, also trying to objectify or make sense of a surreal situation. When selecting for Who’s Looking at the Family three/four years later I was a BA Painting Student at Sunderland University. The triptych I chose to exhibit pictured Ray in various poses holding a Martini bottle. I printed the three out of focus photographs life size, brushing on the developer so you could see brush marks in the final images. I wanted a painterly, hand made sort of look. I went down to the opening of the show and it was a bit of a realization to see so many large, pin sharp images, professionally framed behind glass. My blurry pictures, mounted on board and with a badly written statement, must have seemed a bit out of place. But I’m happy to have had work in the exhibition and I regard myself lucky to have taken part in it at all.

Item Type: Show/Exhibition
Subjects: N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Creative Arts
Research Priority Areas: Creative Practice and Theory
Depositing User: Richard Billingham
Date Deposited: 31 Oct 2019 13:30
Last Modified: 31 Aug 2023 09:25

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