The character of a creature

… as explored in the playful animal artwork of photographer Yago Partal, available for inspection in his 2017 book Zoo Portraits and for sale from his on-line site. The book cover, which shows a panda character holding a portrait of a koala character:

(#1) The portraits are meant to bring out characteristic features of a creature — not, however, as abstractions, but as embodiments in highly individual animal personages, with their own personal names: Bao the giant panda, Cooper the koala

Yes, I’m playing with two senses of character. From NOAD:

noun character: 1 the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual: running away was not in keeping with her character. … 2 a person [AZ: perhaps, better a personage / a figure / an individual] in a novel, play, or movie: the author’s compassionate identification with his characters.

(Hat tip to Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky.)

From Partal’s site, the artist’s description of his photomontage project (somewhat awkwardly written in the third person):

Zoo Portraits is a brand name that was born in 2013 based on a creative project developed by Yago Partal, a photographer and producer living in Barcelona city. Influenced by the animal kingdom, cartoons and fashion since he was a child, he found his voice in a game we all like to play: the humanization of animals. The project initially started as a marketing campaign to publicize photo books for models, actors and actresses. He made several portraits by mixing the animal world with elements of fashion in a collage, half photographic and half illustrative, that soon came to life itself as a separate project and its later consolidation as the brand Zoo Portraits.

But here he speaks directly to us:

About Me: Photographer. Digital artist. Zoology student. Emotionally involved with biodiversity loss and climate change.

For as long as I can remember I have been passionate about two things: animals and creating images. Two paths that ended up coming together and have led me to do what I do.

The animal portraits (of farm animals and pets as well as wild animals) are by turns deeply moving, poignant, charming, and funny.

Five animals. As depicted by Partal. My three totem animals — anteater, penguin, woo(l)ly mammoth (which will have to be represented here by an elephant cousin) — and my two gay-type animals — otter (a sleeker bearish guy, as I once was), bear (as I am now, still hairy but considerably bulkier).

The anteater. A totem animal assigned to me in college because the Z of my family name clanged with the ant-slurping zot sound made by the anteater in the B.C. comic strip; Zot became my nickname and the anteater my totem creature (both retired after I left Princeton, except for my later jokingly adopting the pseudonym Zotling ‘the Zot of linguistics’). I’ve come to think of the B.C. anteater as called Zot (in the strip he’s just the Anteater), and I’ll get to him in a moment, but first Partal’s anteater, who has no name I’ve been able to find, but who couldn’t possibly have a silly name like Zot:

(#2) A deeply thoughtful creature, he might be named Ernest or Albert

Now about the comic strip, from Wikipedia:

B.C. is a daily American comic strip created by cartoonist Johnny Hart. Set in prehistoric times, it features a group of cavemen and anthropomorphic animals from various geologic eras.

B.C. made its newspaper debut on February 17, 1958 … Since [Hart’s 2007] death, … Mason Mastroianni has produced the strip

… The Anteater: eats ants with a sticky, elastic tongue and a ZOT! sound. Hart actually drew something of a hybrid — with the long ears of an aardvark and the bushy tail of a giant anteater. (This character was the inspiration for Peter the Anteater, the University of California, Irvine team mascot. Also served as the inspiration for the mascot of the now disestablished US Navy fighter squadron VF-114 the “Aardvarks”.)

Zot the anteater takes his pleasure by feeding at an anthill:

(#3) An activity that evokes the pleasures of licking and sucking (resonances that I’m sure my college friends fully appreciated) — but Zot’s sensualist satisfactions very often go awry (who knows what might be lurking in that anthill?)

The penguin. In a display of Zoo Portraits:

(#4) Roald the emperor penguin: row 1, column 4 (plus all the others for you to appreciate)

The mammoth. Well, the elephant, in another display:

(#5) Bagus the Asiatic elephant (cousin to the woolly mammoth): row 2, column 1

The otter. In yet another display:

(#5) Gorou the sea otter: row 3, column 4

The bear. From a number of bear species, presented in a variety of costumes:

(#6) Liam the American black bear

(The face is great, but I don’t think I’d ever wear that shirt.)

2 Responses to “The character of a creature”

  1. Bill Stewart Says:

    Apropos of next to nothing and definitely tangential: there used to be a hard candy called “Zotz”, fruit-flavored and filled with effervescent powder. Apparently they were loved by acidheads.

    • J B Levin Says:

      Possibly even less apropos, I add the William Castle fantasy/comedy “Zotz!” starring Tom Poston and others, where that was the spoken word that engaged the powers of a magic coin.

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