Ones to Watch 2021: Billy Barraclough

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Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of 20 emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of over 450 nominations. This artist is also one of five talents selected for Futures, a Europe-based platform bringing together the global photography community to support and nurture the professional development of emerging artists across the world.

The recent graduate uses his photographs to create a visual dialogue with his late father’s archive

Born in Oxford in 1994, Billy Barraclough studied international development at the University of East Anglia before finding his way into the world of photography. He had always owned a camera, but it was not until 2016, while living and working in Lebanon, that he began his first project. I Trust in God is a warm and lyrical portrait of a country and its people, shot across two years.

“Whenever I was free, I’d cycle around with my camera, photographing whoever I met and whatever scenes caught my eye,” he says. It was a naturally evolving and curious process; he was a stranger feeling his way around a new home. “Looking back at the pictures, trying to piece them together, I was thinking a lot about how Lebanon and the people I was photographing were deeply bound together yet divided by their faith,” he adds.

From John's Notebooks © Billy Barraclough.
From John's Notebooks © Billy Barraclough.

After his stint in Lebanon, Barraclough moved back to the UK. In 2019 he enrolled onto the photography MA at the University of West England in Bristol. During this period he completed John’s Notebooks – a moving, highly personal series made in response to his late father’s photographic archive. Barraclough moved home during the first Covid-19 lockdown, and while he was there, he took the opportunity to spend time with the artefacts his father had left behind.

“As a photographer, writer and painter – among many other things – my dad amassed a large collection of negatives and other objects that had been stored away since his death 15 years ago,” he explains. Barraclough was just 11 when his father passed away, and taking photographs inspired by his dad’s old pictures, then editing them together, became his way of having a dialogue between father and son. 

From John's Notebooks © Billy Barraclough.
Murmurations © Billy Barraclough.

For continuity with his father’s pictures, Barraclough shot in black-and-white. Though faces are seldom seen in John’s Notebooks, we are instead presented with parts of bodies, shadows, hands and turned heads. “This was a conscious decision,” Barraclough says. “As I was cataloguing my father’s photographs I became particularly interested in a large collection of pictures of me, my mum, and my sister in which our faces are slightly obscured.” There was such an unusual intimacy to these images that he became fascinated with why his father had photographed them in that way. For his own series, he looked upon his family and surroundings just as his father had done, searching for similar scenes. 

“There is a maturity I feel when looking through [his] work. I don’t believe his intentions were ever to visualise the experience of losing a father at a young age, but I do believe the quiet moments of reflection are drawn from a landscape of grief, and the eventual peace that comes with acceptance.” 

Jack Latham, Photographer

“There is a maturity I feel when looking through [his] work,” explains Jack Latham, photographer and Ones to Watch nominator. “I don’t believe his intentions were ever to visualise the experience of losing a father at a young age, but I do believe the quiet moments of reflection are drawn from a landscape of grief, and the eventual peace that comes with acceptance.” 

“Barraclough’s work is both incredibly sophisticated and remarkably tender; it is both visually and emotionally captivating,” writes nominator Aaron Shcuman. Barraclough is preparing an exhibition of John’s Notebooks for the inaugural Bristol Photo Festival. This, and a publication of Murmurations – another series he shot while in Oxford, of starling formations  – is due to be published later this year.

Meanwhile, he has been working on a new project based in Yorkshire: “My dad is from North Yorkshire, and it’s also the place he photographed extensively, so a lot of his archive is made up of images from that area.” Allowing himself to be led by pictures from the past, Barraclough is spending the summer outdoors, tracing the footsteps his dad took decades before.

Joanna Cresswell

Joanna L. Cresswell is a writer and editor based in Brighton. She has written on photography and culture for over 40 international magazines and journals, and held positions as editor for organisations including The Photographers' Gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Self Publish, Be Happy. She recently completed an MA in comparative literature and criticism at Goldsmiths College, University of London