Born in 1970, Billingham first came to widespread recognition through exhibiting a series of photographs at the Barbican Art gallery in London in 1994, the same year he graduated from the University of Sunderland.
These portraits of the artist's parents and brother at their home in the West Midlands were originally intended as source material for paintings. Following the exhibition at The Barbican, they were later made into the book Ray's A Laugh in 1996 and were also included to huge acclaim in the Royal Academy of Art's famous 1997 exhibition: Sensation. Billingham works primarily in stills photography but has made several films including Fishtank which was created from footage shot around the same time as the collection of photographs in Ray's A Laugh.
Billingham won his university's Prestige Photography Prize in 1994, the Felix H Mann Memorial Prize in 1995 and the first Citibank Private Bank Photography Prize in 1997. In addition to notable touring solo exhibitions Zoo (2007) and Black Country (2005 - 2006), his work has been included in group exhibitions at Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Tate Britain, Moderna Museet, Stockholm and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.