Black country [Artist's photobook]

Billingham, Richard ORCID: (2004) Black country [Artist's photobook]. Billingham, Richard, ed. The Public, West Bromwich, UK. ISBN 9780954020026. [Book]

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'Black Country’ by Richard Billingham, Published by The Pubic, 2004, West Bromwich (ISBN 978-0954020026) comprised a sequenced selection of forty - five 35mm and 120 medium format analogue colour photographs of urban landscapes made in the artist’s small home town of Cradley Heath, West Midlands, UK. There was also an essay by writer, curator and Director of the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham Jonathan Watkins and an introduction by Sylvia King, Director of The Public, West Bromwich.

Although a photobook, ‘Black Country’ also serves as a catalogue of gallery photographic works. All images in the book are gallery works of which there have been nine solo shows. They were ‘Black Country’, The New Art Gallery, Walsall, 2006; ‘Black Country’, La Fabrica, Madrid, 2005; ‘Black Country’, Galleria Marabini, Bologna, 2005; ‘Black Country’, Galway Arts Festival, Galway, 2005; ‘Black Country’, Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London, 2005; Galerie Mot & Van den Boogaard, Brussels, 1999; Galerie Monica Reitz, Frankfurt am Main, 1998 and Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London 1998.

Besides the above solo shows, work from this series was also exhibited in Billingham’s survey show at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, 2008 with an illustrated catalogue.

Work from Black Country was also included in the following group exhibitions: ‘Through the Lens’, Royal West of England Academy Bristol 2008; ‘Damaged Romanticism’, University of Houston, Texas (with illustrated catalogue); ‘Black Country’, The Public, West Bromwich 2009; ‘The Witching Hour: Darkness and the Architectural Uncanny’, PM Gallery & House London 2011 and ‘Close-Ups, Contemporary Art and Carl Th. Dreyer’, Nikolaj Contemporary Art Centre, Copenhagen (with illustrated catalogue) 1999 and 'Wounds: Between Democracy and Redemption in Contemporary Art', Moderna Museet, Stockholm (with illustrated catalogue) 1998.

Black Country (1992 – 2004) was an investigation into the intimacy of place, memory and local history and was made in the artist’s small home town of Cradley Heath, UK, once a thriving manufacturing town and considered to be at the heart of the industrial revolution. An initial set of Cradley Heath urbanscapes were made 1992 - 1998 and focused on places of significance in Billingham’s childhood. They were daytime shots made in varying weather documenting places familiar from childhood such as those he might have played as a child or run an errand for his mother. Like some of the images made for the series ‘Rays a Laugh’ the images of place and memory are snapshots made without the use of a tripod.

In about 2004, the gallery and arts organisation The Public, West Bromwich, West Midlands, commissioned the artist to make further work in the Black Country. Reluctant to repeat the same method of image making, the artist photographed at night using medium format camera and tripods, again in places of childhood familiarity. This time, images captured the mood and atmosphere of places and spaces, often lit up with sodium streetlight and giving a cinematic appearance. Cradley Heath is a small town in the West Midlands once famous for chain making and geographically considered to be at the heart of the industrial revolution in the UK. Besides the familiarity of childhood, there can also be seen in the content of the whole body of work, a shift away from a manufacturing industry to that of a service industry at the turn of the 21st century.

In 2017, Billingham shot the cinema feature film ‘Ray & Liz’, 1hr 47mins on location in Cradley Heath and based on the artists childhood memories and observations of growing up in the Black Country during the Thatcher Era. Although focusing mainly on his parents Ray & Liz and younger brother Jason, some of the locations from his Black Country series were nevertheless revisited and used in the film, opening up new insights and back story to the photographic work.

Item Type: Book
Research Areas: A. > School of Art and Design > Visual Arts > Art Practice as Investigation cluster
Item ID: 26678
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Richard Billingham
Date Deposited: 30 May 2019 07:56
Last Modified: 20 Jul 2021 09:44

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