Postcards from Zambia: a Social Documentary

There are two interesting histories about postcards, the first was created by the French Government, to use postcards, a fad of the day, to encourage colonialisation in Algeria through tourism and business development, where colonialisation loosely means state-encouraged settlement in a colony. A second history was Alfredo Jarr sending postcards about Rwanda, from 1994, for example 'Emmanuel Rucogoza is still alive', during the Rwanda genocide; the exhibition was later known as Signs of Life.

Zambia fortunately never faced this later kind of terror, and slavery was banned by the British government 90 or so years before Zambia was occupied by the British South Africa Company by agreement with European powers in 1889. Bembas and some Europeans continued to practice the slave trade until the mid-1870s, and the ivory trade until much later. Zambia became a 'protectorate' in 1924 and independent in 1964.

In documentary photography’s modern form, a common criticism is that it ‘constructs a victim for its always privileged audience in terms of class, ethnicity, gender or other social category, […] and the dignity of the subject […] is not guaranteed by any particular viewer'. This negative postmodern reality has misplaced aid and development for many years and now there is a need for a new photographic response. It needs to be recognised that even the great documentarians have been paid to document misery by those needing to preserve their jobs as the Lords of Poverty. Wiser people describe this as bias. The concept that Africa is dying of disease, starvation and wars is a myth generated by the West's misguided and misinformed simulacrum that is obviously nonsense.

In this book, the motivation is to disrupt this cliché and show the subject not as a victim but as a dignified participant in his or her own increasingly successful economy and environment. Documentary photography needs to recognise that it's role is to document life in all it's vibrancy, from ordinary existence to, yes, wars, but the distribution should be normal. Documenting misery may satisfy the West's need for guilt alleviation but it remains two standard deviations away from mean humanity.These themed representations were taken mostly in remote locations without donors or dignitaries, so I hope they fairly characterise the people I have met and the country I have seen.

There was a book signing at Planet Books between 10am and midday on Saturday, 9 March, which was on a long weekend competing with UN Women's day and World Book day. Since few read, Women's day stole the march. The UN compatible statistic was that I sold to 30 per cent of customers entering the shop... You will notice Danbisa Moyo's Dead Aid is prominent and we added Brenda Muntemba's Off-Duty a bit later.

booksigning in One Tree Books, Petersfield, UKSigning books in One Tree Books, Petersfield, UK

There was another book signing in One Tree Books, the famously independent bookshop in Petersfield, UK, on 20 April 2013; further, the Petersfield Post came and recorded the event. Here I am with Tim O'Kelly.

One Tree Books in Petersfield, Hampshire, UKThe story of signing Postcards from Zambia in One Tree Books published in the Petersfield Post, UK

And here is another view at Petersfield's One Tree Books, me on the right with, from left, Dee Dee, Clive Marchant, Martin Henslow, and Charlie in front of Kai, in a more colourful version.

Petersfield signing with Dee Dee, Clive Marchant, Martin Henslow and Charlie in front of KaiPeterfield signing with Dee Dee, Clive Marchant, Martin Henslow, Charlie and Kai

The most recent article was by Global Zambian Magazine.

Published in the Global Zambian MagazinePublished in the Global Zambian Magazine

The soft-backed book is available throughout Zambia and from Amazon in the UK. I was interviewed on 7 March 2013 by Radio Phoenix, by Luchi, who is passionate about photography. There was a press release on 5 March, 2013, and a review by Andrew Mulenga was in The Post on 16 March.

Andrew Mulenga's article in The Post, 16 March 2013Andrew Mulenga's article in the former Post newspaper

There is also a continuously updated Facebook page. And here is the private showing that you missed; a public exhibition will be showing shortly.


Steve Walker of the UK said, 'the photos are excellent - quite an insight into daily life in Zambia - well done'; Kirk Longstein of the US said on Facebook, 'WOW Peter, these are great shots! what a great job capturing life of a Zambia; Frank Berrens in the Netherlands said, 'This fantastic collection of pictures, painting a moment in time of contemporary Zambia, is leaving us with the of smell of Africa in our senses!'

And here is a great quote from The Global Zambian Magazine, 'Social documentary photographer, Peter Langmead can only be described as a legend in the photography industry, an overall Renaissance man. Peter’s work takes photography in Zambia to a whole new level as his documentation really captures the lives of his subjects, providing that added inside look into the beauty of Zambian life and it’s people. Known for his book ‘Postcards From Zambia’ which is a reflection of his broad experience, and his observation and exploration of the Zambian culture between 2008 and 2012, and showcasing it in such a positive light. A true inspiration to us all not only in photography but the arts.'

Peter Langmead


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