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Remembering Peter Beard Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

20 April 2020

Peter Beard, whose wildlife photography has been widely published since the 1960s, was found dead in Camp Hero State Park Sunday, nearly three weeks after he wandered away from his Montauk home on Long Island. He was 82 and had been suffering from dementia and the effects of a stroke.

Beard was born in 1938 into a family seeded with railroad money on his father's side and tobacco money on his mother's.

Growing up in New York City, Alabama and Islip, Long Island, he kept diaries. After a grandmother with whom he spent summers in Tuxedo Park had given him a Voigtl&§uml;nder camera, he began making photographs to embellish the diaries.

When he was 17, he made his first trip to Africa and was promptly chased up a tree by a hippo whose portrait he was trying to make. In Kenya, he went shooting with both gun and camera with the last generation of big game hunters.

A graduate of Pomfret School, he entered Yale University in 1957 enrolled in pre-med studies. But it wasn't to last. "It soon became painfully clear," Beard later said, "that human beings were the disease."

He switched his major to art history where he studied under Josef Albers, Richard Lindner and Vincent Scully, graduating with an A.B. in 1961.

'It soon became painfully clear that human beings were the disease.'

After his junior year, he returned to Kenya for the summer, taking a series of photographs that would eventually become his first photo book The End of the Game, reprinted on its 50th anniversary by Taschen.

For his senior thesis at school, he submitted his diaries from Kenya.

"Beard's work reveals the damage done by human intervention in Africa as not only relevant, but necessary, in probing the continuing brutalities that ravage Africa's wildlife," the British Journal of Photography's reviewer wrote in 2015.

At that time, he acquired Hog Ranch near the Ngong Hills in Kenya and next to Isak Dinesen's property. It would become his life-long base in East Africa. The purchase required a special dispensation from Kenyan President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta that included a mandate that Beard "film, photograph, write, and document the local flora, fauna and peoples."

In a second edition of The End of the Game (1977), Beard documented the death in Tsavo National Park of 35,000 elephants and 5,000 rhinos as the animals succumbed to starvation and stress and density-related diseases.

With Alistair Graham he studied crocodiles at Lake Rudolph, collaborating on the book Eyelids of Morning: The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men (1973). He also compiled Longing for Darkness: Kamante's Tales from Out of Africa (1975). Zara's Tales: Perilous Escapades in Equatorial Africa (2004) was written for his daughter. And Taschen has published a monograph, Peter Beard (2006, 2008, 2013, 2020).

Beard collaborated with many artists, including Andy Warhol, Andrew Wyeth, Richard Lindner, Terry Southern, Truman Capote and Francis Bacon, many of whom became his friends. He also photographed prominent politicians, supermodels, rock stars and New York City celebrities during the 1970s and 1980s.

His first exhibition was at the Blum Helman Gallery in New York City in 1975. He has also been exhibited notably at the International Center of Photography, New York City, in 1977, and the Centre national de la photographie, Paris, in 1997. And he has enjoyed gallery exhibitions in Berlin, London, Toronto, Madrid, Milan, Tokyo and Vienna.

His affinity for diaries led to incorporating his photographs into collages that contained newspaper clippings, dried leave, insects, animal blood and even his own blood.

In addition to his photography, Beard was also well known for his personal life. "He seemed to possess the indefatigability of a half-dozen men and well into old age routinely reveled until dawn, his escapades becoming grist for gossip columnists worldwide," Margalit Fox noted in her New York Times obituary.

Sean O'Hagan echoed that in his Guardian obituary, "In many ways, Beard belonged to an older, more aristocratic world, with his film star looks and playboy lifestyle buoyed by inherited wealth and fuelled by a devil-may-care attitude that was often reckless in the extreme."

His work has been collected by the Peter Beard Studio and Archive, founded by Beard and his wife Nejma.

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