This week has been fun. Watching Tom Clancy interview Richard Billingham has been informative. Not only in learning more about Billingham’s early work, the work of his family , but also how he speaks in a non-jargon, straightforward manner about it.
When I look at Billingham’s work on his parents through Ray’s A Laugh, I do so with a feeling of sadness and inquisitiveness. I wonder if I would have had the courage to share with the world the way my parents were at once polarised and together.
Cotton wrote that “Billingham had focused on the chaotic and despairing points of domestic life in his work before, and even if he was unaware that this was an existing strategy within contemporary photography, his was the stance of someone who sought a more critical understanding of the reality of his daily life” (Cotton, 2014: 151)1
I feel that her statement that this work is Billingham’s way to more critically understand his daily life seems apt, it became a work in progress – once it had been pointed out to him as it was a lecturer who first brought his attention to the potential in his work.
Billingham’s desire to be protective of his parents while at the same time seem disassociated from the people within the pictures feels a little confusing. Yet he stopped photographing them when they had become ‘famous’ for fear of exploiting them. For me his work seems to show such a personal perspective yet be entirely separate from the content – a voyeuristic feel; of being on the outside looking in. But he has also stated that his intent was not to politicize, sensationalize or offend but to simply make “spiritually meaningful work”.
I mostly associate to Billingham’s lack of airs and graces and ability to utilise the means at his disposal to create his work. That in itself has lent him an aesthetic in his various media that runs throughout. The use of colour highlights the place and time, and his ability to portray people as if he was not there is evident.
Initially, I would say that Billingham’s images were biographical, an opportunity to try out photography on familiar ground.
It was put to us this week whether, when it comes to the question of tragedy if it can only in art be aesthetically pleasing – perhaps yes. It allows the viewer the separation that is sometimes needed, to reflect and digest what you are seeing. And then to act on it. In Billingham’s work although there may be perceived a sense of lives not fulfilled, is it tragedy? Having looked at Salgado’s work and the criticism surrounding his ‘beautification’ of environmental/human tragedies in previous week’s, I feel that breaking a photograph down to purely aesthetics is often doing the image a disservice. The aesthetic is just part of the whole.
In uploading some of my work (as below) for this module for fellow students to then put forward questions has been a great experience. It has helped to formulate a succinct explanation of the different strands I am working on under the umbrella of human impact on the earth.
The questions included:
What does your practice mean to you?
Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing and direction of your practice?
Some photographers say that they see the world differently and that they have a different perspective on life. I see the world as a stage and life as the performance. What is your perspective on the world and on life?
What influenced your choice of a square crop and subdued colours?
What is the connection between the more whimsical blue photos, the plant and trash ones? Is it a reflection on beauty of natural world and our negative impact on it?
My response was as follows:
My practice as it stands now is my opportunity to make sense of some of the ideas and situations that intrigue or concern me, and sharing that with others to create dialogue.
My ‘magpie’, nature is influenced by many spheres, but when specifically thinking of photographers the early work of Anna Atkins sparked my love for historic processes while my most recent influences have been Deb Todd Wheeler, Christine Elfman, Mandy Barker, Henri Blommers and Keith Carter. They all have very distinct styles and interests but have all in some way perhaps steered my thought process a little. My perspective on the world is that I am part of it, not in absolute control of it – I prefer to see it as we are its caretakers, not just its takers. We all go back to it eventually.
The influence of the square crop is simply a personal preference. I tend to work in squares or circles but no idea exactly why. Will give it some consideration. The colours in the plant images are simply as they are – a dull day and a tiny tweak in the app. They will used as negatives for cyanotype prints too.
There is no connection between the cyanotypes and the others directly but they all sit under my umbrella project of human impact on our environs. The litter project is very obvious as it shows human debris. I am working on making the found litter become the base for the images, which will be left in situ – litter becoming art and art becoming recycling. The lichen is more about symbiotic relationships creating a means of life support for those involved; a metaphor for our need to work together for the environment, while the blue images relate to myths of our own creation (in this case Celtic Goddess) and how they influence how we see nature. It includes my own body making the impact in the images or that of plastic dolls to play with ideas of what is currently impacting our world more. Mainly I want them to spark questions so that people can talk more about their views on the subject – it’s not about making people feel guilty but perhaps more willing to try to work towards minimising their impact even if its only in their own backyard.
And now, as Spring has sprung, it time to get outside and make photographic hay while the sun shines.
- Cotton, C. and Ladd, J. (2014) Ray’s A Laugh – Books on Books. New York: Errata Editions, p. 151