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Richard Billingham: Ray's a Laugh (First Hardcover Edition)

Publisher: Zürich (Zurich): Scalo Verlag, 1996
Edition: 1st Edition
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN: 3931141187
Condition: Near Fine / Fine
Item #: 112925



First edition, first printing. Hardcover. Mauve paper-covered boards with title printed in burgundy on cover and spine, with photographically illustrated dust jacket. Photographs by Richard Billingham. Designed by Hans Werner Holzwarth. 96 pp., with 52 full-bleed four-color plates (most are two-page spreads), finely printed in Germany by Steidl, Göttingen. 11-1/4 x 8-1/2 inches. [Cited in Martin Parr and Gerry Badger, The Photobook: A History, Volume II. (London and New York: Phaidon, 2006).]


Near Fine (small bump to bottom edge of rear board, else Fine) in Fine dust jacket.


Richard Billingham's unrelentingly raw photographs of his family are appropriately presented without exegesis in pages of this unforgettable book. The dry artist's statement printed on the back of the dust jacket is, however, distinctly British in its understated brevity: "This book is about my close family. My father Raymond is a chronic alcoholic. He doesn't like going outside and mostly drinks homebrew. My mother Elizabeth hardly drinks but she does smoke a lot. She likes pets and things that are decorative. They married in 1970 and I was born soon after. My younger brother Jason was taken into care when he was 11 but is now back with Ray and Liz again. Recently he became a father. Ray says Jason is unruly. Jason says Ray's a laugh but doesn't want to be like him." These matter-of-fact words belie the cramped, chaotic subject that these grainy, flash-lit images convey. According to one critic (Jim Lewis, Artforum, January 1997), "Billingham's home seems, at first glance, to be an almost comically horrible place to be, with its airless rooms stuffed full of broken-down furniture, its violence and abjection, and hopelessness, and mess. It's the kind of place that usually exists in domestic semidarkness, not because it's private, but because it's too tawdry to photograph." But for all the exploitative accusations these images might invite at first glance, there is a more lasting impression of the devotion and tenderness between Billingham's parents and between the artist and his subject. The photographs say what no words can. As Lewis asserts, "What makes some photographs great is precisely the balance they strike between devouring their subject and adoring it, and the surprise they inspire at the idea that whatever they're picturing can bear the weight of just that contradiction."