Multiple jigsaws, almost completed, are laid out in the living room. On the sideboard, porcelain creatures jostle for space with family photos – a marriage scene, a smiling elderly couple, kids in the park. Dolls are piled high on a chair in the corner, arranged in a chaotic arc. White masks, like those from the Venice Carnival, are positioned across one wall. The wallpaper is a scene from a seaside town – spinning Ferris wheels, winding rollercoasters, fairground murals – yet the paper itself is pockmarked with holes and stains.
Richard Billingham, who grew up in this environment, describes the room as “carnivalesque”. When he lived here, in Cradley Heath in the West Midlands, he did so with his mother Liz and, after she moved out, his father Ray. This jam of decorative stuff was all Liz. She had winding, flowering roots and flowers tattooed across her arms. She wore floral dresses and she smoked until the ashtrays overflowed.
When Billingham was 10 years old, Ray was laid off from a job as a machinist. The family sold their home for two grand – a cash-in- hand job to a local conman – and moved here, to what was quaintly referred to as public housing. Ray, who until this point only drank in the pub, began his life as a committed alcoholic and a full-time hermit.
Photographs of a woman holding her baby, two shoppers, a drum majorette, and a child from a remote village in Sierra Leone have all been shortlisted for the National Portrait Gallery’s prestigious Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize this year. The prize winners will be announced at an award ceremony at the NPG on 16 October, with the overall winner receiving £15,000 and other cash prizes awarded to the shortlisted photographers at the judges’ discretion.
Two of the images were shot in London, with Max Barstow behind a striking photograph of two women in a busy shopping street in the city centre. The image comes from his series Londoners and in it, he says, his aim has been to “make unposed portraits with the intensity of images made by great studio photographers such as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn”.
Patricia Karallis and Giada De Agostinis, founding editor and editor of the online photography magazine, pick out their top five of the year – including Vincent Ferrané’s book Milky Way
Early 20th-century surrealist photographer Claude Cahun (1894-1954) and contemporary artist Gillian Wearing come together in The National Portrait Gallery’s ambitious new exhibition, Behind the mask, another mask. The exhibition includes 100 works by the two artists who, despite being separated by 70 years, have “extraordinary links” according to curator Sarah Howgate, in an interview for the March 2017 issue of BJP. “Although their trajectories as artists are markedly different, many parallels can be drawn between their work,” she says. The exhibition – the result of a “light-bulb moment” at a round-table meeting of NPG directors – addresses themes of gender, masquerade and performance through images that often involve the artists dressing up and wearing masks to portray a character or communicate a message. In an early Cahun self-portrait the photographer is dressed as a ‘dandy’, for example – a young man with a shaved head and a neatly pressed black suit, complete with a handkerchief tucked into the breast pocket. The show explores “Cahun’s transformation from young girl to gender-neutral figure”, explains Howgate. Cahun, a contemporary of Man Ray who was born Lucy …
The group shuffles through a slim opening in the make-shift wooden house structure, curious as to where the loud banging, crunching and the occasional toot of a loud car horn is coming from. Inside, the room is pitch black, illuminated only by a wide flat screen hung on the wall, framed with a pair of crimson red curtains. A window, if you like. We are at the the University of Brighton Galleries, watching the hypnotic video installation by Gillian Wearing, who is this year’s Brighton HOUSE Festival’s Invited Artist. The film, A Room With Your Views,, co-commissioned by Brighton Festival, is a compilation of short clips of the views from people’s windows from 167 different countries. With each location, the view is at first obscured by a curtain or blind, which is then pulled back to unveil anything from a romantically lit night scene over River Arno in Florence, to the derelict land and corrugated metal roofs of a civilian camp in South Sudan, to a tabby cat gazing out onto the morning rush in …