ZedPipo: Who Pays the Gatekeeper?

Almost everyone likes a picture of themselves; it is commonly known that the press publishes pictures of people that everyone wants to see, to increase sales, the rich and famous are normal candidates and explain the existence of the paparazzi. Bate (2009) recognises three classes of people: the familiar, who are your family, neighbours and acquaintances; the unknown, who are strangers and foreigners; and representations of known personalities, who are recognised from public life or some notoriety. Most of the people in this book are acquaintances, pp17, 28, 87, with a few strangers, pp82, 85, 91 and personalities from public life, pp66, 70, 81. Another issue is who pays for the portrait? A self-portrait or a commissioned portrait delivers what the patron wants. A non-commissioned photograph is not obliged to communicate the wishes of the subject and, like the biography, is perceived to be more reliable, and more documentary in nature.

August Sander (1876-1964) was the father of modern portrait photography; he used the environment around his subjects. ‘The money earned from commercial commissions allowed Sander to work in his spare time on a grandiose documentary project entitled ‘People of the 20th Century’, aimed at compiling a typology of contemporary Germans and devising a social portrait of his epoch. Subjects for these images were selected from his acquaintances and customers’, (augustsander.com). Sander showed the professions of his subjects by their clothes, their environment and their manner. Conclusion

The portrait can fulfil its need to show the character of the subject, it can be interpreted and its subject can be important, but none of these make it a work of art. In Western Europe, portraiture has been a recognised genre for many years, effectively recording eminent figures of wealth, politics and the arts since the 15th century for national heritage, essentially regulated by art historians. The digital age has changed the meaning of portraiture by elevating phone owners to photographers and artists with audiences of their social media friends, perhaps redefining portraits of national importance, while many others of and by ordinary people will never be seen or judged by art historians and will die with their phones.

Artwork is something that gives aesthetic pleasure, which is personal, whether or not honed by education and experience. Postmodernism declared the end of history. The mobile phone’s camera in the hands of many artists with their own aesthetic judgement of beauty may be the end of the portrait but not of the portraiture genre of famous personalities and artists.

To some extent this book is an extension of Sander’s work, but in Zambia, and there is still a need for this type of documentation for posterity. But, with the mobile phone and the selfie, everything has changed and the greatest democratisation for portraits has been social media. The implication is there is no gatekeeper anymore and there can be no return.

26-second slideshow

Cover of the photobook ZedPipo Singer Tenor Milk collector Helicopter pilot Fishermen Music director Conductor Milkman Contralto <em>Basso profundo</em> No 3 Actors

Peter Langmead

Lusaka, 2015

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