Richard Billingham | Dysfunction & Alcoholism

 Richard Billingham,  Untitled  (1995), from the  Ray’s a Laugh  series. Copyright of the artist, courtesy of Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London.

 Richard Billingham, Untitled (1995), from the Ray’s a Laugh series. Copyright of the artist, courtesy of Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London.

Photographer and filmmaker Richard Billingham, uses a unique method of facing the memories of his feral family life growing up on a Midland’s council estate. The artist creates the most beautifully disgusting photographs that encompass how vital the documentation of real life is, creating something so unsettling and repulsive while simultaneously prepossessing and peaceful.  

The artist uses a distinctive form of subconscious rumination. His photographic work was originally intended for use as source material for painting. It was unknown to him that his photographs had a much deeper and underlying importance. His work now takes the subject matter of caged animals; reminiscent of his earlier work: he and his parents cooped up in their council flat like untamed animals in a cage, unable to escape their uninviting reality, rancid walls consumed with dirt and wild dysfunctionality. Both of the photographic series' express despair and desolation.

In 2016, Billingham produced the first part of his three-part film, Ray documenting his father’s self destruction after his wife, Richard’s mother, Liz, became estranged from the family. Ray is a visual depiction of Richard’s memory. He portrays his father becoming a secluded prisoner in his own bedroom due to his chronic alcohol addiction. The first visual segment is the battle for control over Ray by Liz, and neighbour Sid.

Richard Billingham,  Untitled  (1996), chromogenic print, 105 x 158 cm. Copyright to the artist, courtesy of Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London.

Richard Billingham, Untitled (1996), chromogenic print, 105 x 158 cm. Copyright to the artist, courtesy of Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London.

Richard Billingham,  Untitled  (1990), colour print on aluminium, 105 x 158 cm. Copyright of the artist.

Richard Billingham, Untitled (1990), colour print on aluminium, 105 x 158 cm. Copyright of the artist.

Part of me feels unsympathetic to the way the film has been produced as it is recreated with actors. The acting aspect of the film diminishes the aesthetics of real-life quality values, even though they can be seen in the artist’s family photographs. Billingham has recreated the film the way that he interpreted it in life, but the events taking place in the film are somewhat fabricated. The words and actions are incomplete and we are seeing Ray being acted from the artist’s point of view - not from real life events.

However, the message is still resonant. I have experienced childhood trauma in the form of alcoholism and can thoroughly relate to the film. Yet it appears that what we see is only the surface. Although we’re seeing what Ray was like through his son’s eyes, the film somewhat lacks the basic emotional depth that really grasps the viewer.

Nevertheless, the emotionless qualities of the film are a harsh reality of what an alcohol addiction is really like. Drink is the only thing on the alcoholic’s mind; regardless of whether they’re emotionally torturing their loved ones. The living conditions and poverty are a secondary thought to the primary selfish needs of alcohol.

Billingham’s film, Fishtank (1998) is an extreme juxtaposition to Ray. The realistic comparisons between Ray and Fishtank are noticeable. The way that Fishtank is produced shows the grittily realist dysfunctionality of Billingham’s family life. The film is made from real life events currently happening in the family home and we can see the way that Ray naturally acts when he believes no one is watching.

While there are some beautifully happy moments in Fishtank; when we diminish the laughing and smiling, it becomes apparent the conditions the family are living in are treacherous and traumatising. The grim reality of the situation alludes to the parent's neglectful nature towards their home and to a certain degree, their children’s psychological state.

Although we can clearly see that the Billingham family are watching a documentary about fish, leading us to believe this is what the film is named after; we can question whether the name itself sheds more light into the way that the artist perceives his father; confined in a metaphorical fish tank. Ray is the fish and alcohol is the water. In Ray’s addicted mind, he needs the intoxicating fluid to survive.

The way Billingham documents his family life appears to be a display of deep psychological loneliness, and the way he photographs caged animals is comparable to the way he perceives his life. The level of unease he can express with something so simple, suggests he is more comfortable with neglect than with beauty.  

Ghanwa Rana | 'I Am Writing You From A Country Far Away...'

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Paris-based photographer and filmmaker, Ghanwa Rana, shares with us her upcoming documentary project, Tamaghose. Translated as "source of hope", the film focuses on the women of Kabylia, the region north of Algeria. The artist visited for the first time in February 2016, where she shot with her Holga 120N and came back with a series of moving black and white images, which she then titled, I Am Writing You From Far Away, a selection of which are featured here.

With a degree in Theatre, Cinema & Anthropology, and a masters degree in filmmaking, specialising in documentary making, Ghanwa decided to create something which explored the lives and identities of the Kabyle women, from growing up in a war zone to the way in which they expressed themselves, through singing, tattoos, jewellery and carpet-making.

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Ghanwa pursued this project due to her curiosity in elderly people and "the secrets they may hold", and the idea of those secrets passing on through the generations. She also wanted to explore the idea that human beings from all around the world share a commonality, from the way people dress and get ready, to their tattoos and jewellery:

"There are so many similarities with ways of doing things and the reasons behind them... Afghan and Kabyle jewellery have so much in common, as much as Rajasthani face tattoo and Maori tattoos... I wanted to make something in my way, about sharing those stories."

The artist has wanted to pursue the project for years:

"It's something I've been thinking of since I was 15 or 16 years old... so it's getting more intense with time and meeting people, throwing my lens into a whole new world... So when I met Lisa, a sound engineer and one of my best friends, it was obvious we wanted to work together, and as aspiring filmmakers, we wanted to create something after our studies. And there's something important about that project why I'm doing it now, It's because I feel like it's already too late. In Kabylia, the women I want to share the stories of are very old, there's even a woman of 105 years old. They were little girls or teenagers during the war. I've already lost two of them since my first journey there. And with them it's there stories, the secrets that they are leaving... In some years it's just going to be some old stories a grandmother used to tell, and some objects in museums and replications of those objects for merchandising but the spirit of it would just won't be there... they are the last guardians of those secrets and those skills and its the beliefs of a social group that will be lost... It's already started. That's the thing with old people... They get fragile, and start forgetting... It's heartbreaking."

Filming of Tamaghose will commence in December of this year. See more of Ghanwa's work here.