‘Ray’s a Laugh’ by Richard Billingham


‘Ray’s a Laugh’ by Richard Billingham

I bought this book in Rotterdam yesterday. I had seen some of the images before but not the whole book. All of the original plates are here from 1996 original together with a forward by Charlotte Cotton.

The book is about this close family. His father Ray is an alcoholic and drinks a dark looking homebrew. His mother Liz appears in many of the photographs and when she is absent they mark times when she has moved out. We also see Richards’ younger brother Jason who was taken into care at the age of 11 but is now back with his parents; “Jason says Ray’s a laugh but doesn’t want to be like him.”

The images are banal, sad, shocking, laden with ‘ordinariness’ which was Bellingham’s intention. He started taking photographs to inform his painting and he and others, such as Julian Germain (his tutor) and Michael Colling soon realised that his collection of carrier bags full of images of his family would make an innovative photo book.

There are 54 plates which open with a bird’s-eye view of his housing estate with his dad with a white carrier in the lower third centre of the frame. We see the sparsely furnished flat, the 5 litre bottle of black coloured home-brew and ray in various stages of intoxication. There is also what appears to be fighting and blood on Ray and his walls. Many of the images are out of focus and the dogs and cat inhabit many of the frames.

I have been to these houses before in my work with dependant drinkers and drug users. Often there are few items (many have been sold) and the prevalent smell of cigarette smoke. Sometimes there is also an intoxicated man or woman who is drinking and who may or may not want help. Few people see the lives of alcoholics but this book is authentic.

There are some disturbing plates; Plate 46b shows a wall with two decorative plates and a painted plaster cat with an ear missing, Below on to the right of the plate is a blood splatter with a very long trail of blood extending out of frame. Something has happened and this may have been violent and alcohol fuelled. Plate 18b show Ray sitting with a bottle beside him and a key, five slices of white bread and an ashtray; there is physical as well as emotional poverty here. Plate 52, 37 have Ray blurred and intoxicated. Perhaps this erasure of clarity of features relates to the loss of the person to Billingham an his destruction of personality of life.

I will use the idea of out of focus to show disintegration of the personality.

This is an authentic book – how do I want to show how people live? We will find out as we progress through the module/


Billingham, R. (2014). ‘Ray’s a Laugh’ 1996 New York (Originally published by Scalo, Zurich 1996), Errato.