I’m going to assume people may not like this post, but when I visited the Saatchi Young British Artists (YBA) exhibit in Brooklyn years ago, Richard Billingham’s photos really caught my attention more than most of the art. See more below.
These came from his photobook, Ray’s A Laugh which documents the life of his alcoholic father Ray, and obese, heavily tattooed mother, Liz. They are moving and provocative, although of course, voyeuristic. What he calls attention to is the poverty and deprivation he grew up with, but what is different about it is we are not looking at developing world poverty but poverty in England, which has an entrenched class structure. Billingham used the cheapest film he could find which brightens the contrast and adds authenticity. In these portraits, you feel touched by the people whose personalities feel larger than life. You get a sense of a lot of things at one time: of lives sustained in poverty, trapped in low-income housing, poor diet, poor access to dental care, and also some of the struggles and conflicts, including a feeling of being very hemmed in by small spaces and by co-dependent relationships where people are just desperate to get by on a daily basis, not just in terms of the financial, but to have the strength to carry on in a world where a lot of disappointments have occurred, and yet, as you see in the picture below, they are still sometimes able to find joy.