ZedPipo: an Introduction
‘You are what you do’, a well-worn phrase that, rightly or wrongly, seeks to encapsulate the identity of an individual within the confines of a profession, job or social role. Capturing identity in a photograph, or indeed a painting, creates a caricature that attempts to summarise an element of a subject. But does it capture their character?
Ferryman in Bangweulu, Samfya.
ZedPipo explores this fascinating question through the prism of a series of portraits of people in Zambia from different walks of life, from a farmer to a central banker, from a pilot to a fisherman.The book explores some of the key philosophical debates of the ‘art versus representation’ conundrum. Can a photograph capture someone’s true likeness? Is a portrait art?
The context in which the picture is taken is important: the location, the clothes, the mise en scène. All conspire to build the semiotics and more closely define the subject’s identity. What difference does it make if the subject is looking at the camera, or is photographed seemingly unaware of the camera?
How does a formal, commissioned portrait differ from one taken by a friend and posted on social media? This book examines all these ideas and in the process presents an impartial social record that captures contemporary life in Zambia.
In his fourth book, ZedPipo, Peter Langmead, a commentator on Western art, captures the ever-changing people of Zambia. This is important, not only for the social history of Zambia but also as a reflection of global heritage.
ZedPipo, like Postcards from Zambia, The Zambians and zedscape, is a view of Zambians from a foreign perspective. The book clearly shows the difference between self-portraits and commissioned images, which are self-selected or manipulated to communicate desirable personal attributes, and portraits taken by Dr Langmead of contemporary Zambians in their professions, in the same way that August Sander, the eminent German portrait photographer, undertook a documentary project to compile a collection of photographs of people to provide a social portrait of his time. In a similar vein to this book, the subjects for his images were selected from his acquaintances and customers.
Most people who take a photograph of someone generally intend to capture a representation and rarely have any artistic pretensions or delusions. Whether the image is a likeness is most important to them but that is only one element in the discussion about pictures capturing the essence of the individual – ‘I can’t see the man for his likeness’ (Roger Fry). Although this quote was about an oil painting, a portrait of a wealthy person to be hung prominently to be seen by guests, many would argue it also applies to a photograph,
Portraits were not commissioned by individuals much before the 15th century, which was the start of European professional portrait painting and already 100 years into the Renaissance; but they have been a predominantly European art form at least since the Classical period of Greek civilisation, early 5th century BC to early 338 BC, used on coins, in sculpture and mentioned by ancient writers like Aristotle and Plato.