This study focuses on the notion of trauma as unlived, a term with definitions stemming from Freudian literature and one summarised by Cathy Caruth as an act of forgetting and returning. Cross-referencing through academics such as Roland Barthes, Hal Foster and Bessel Van der Kolk, the understanding of this as a form of unconscious traumatic experience is elucidated upon and used as a framework through which to analyse photographer Richard Billingham’s series Ray’s a Laugh, both as a standalone body of work concerned with exploring the domestic, as well as its subsequent curatorial representations. The study enquires if the repeated visiting and re-visiting of his mother, father and brother in their modest high rise flat, with camera in hand, takes the form of catharsis or psychosis. Critical reports and reviews of his practice are corroborated to gain an external insight of how traumatic experience and authenticity is expressed in Ray’s a Laugh, alongside a comparative analysis of Nan Goldin to demonstrate the subject as Barthes’ punctum “in extremis” (Soutter 2013:73). Following this, the study examines two exhibitions — Who’s Looking at the Family? (1994), and Richard Billingham: Order out of chaos (2017) — that demonstrate two distinct approaches to displaying Ray’s a Laugh. The former intends to “disclaim broad sociological empiricism in favour of what-you-see-is-what-you-get” (Williams 2013:91) whilst risking voyeuristic interpretations, the latter a contemporary retrospective of sorts, combining different mediums to create a nuanced, intimate representation of a family operating under traumatic duress. Using a blended methodology consisting of discourse analysis and case study, this study concludes that trauma as unexperienced if not unlived is prevalent in the artist’s intent behind his photographs, a facet augmented by a curator’s critically informed decisions.

Making order out of chaos

Research question

Making order out of chaos

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