AThe day he visited Karen Blixen on her farm near Nairobi, he fell in love. In the African light, in Africa, in Kenya, in the people, in this wilderness, in the animal world – and a little bit in the Danish connoisseur of Africa and author of “Beyond Africa”. The 53 years older than the young New York photo artist, who was born into a rock-rich family and passionately looked for a passion.
They became friends. Both were fascinated by Africa’s wilderness. Back then, over 60 years ago, Beard bought the neighboring farm from Karen Blixen, lived there for 23 years and was to commute between New York City, Long Island and Nairobi for the rest of his life.
One of his most famous self-portraits in Africa, long before dementia finally defeated him, shows him laughing while feeding giraffes, in 1985 at his hog farm near Nairobi. He had only been allowed to buy the piece of land with special permission, combined with the requirement of the Kenyan government to document the diversity of the peoples as well as flora and fauna.
At that time, Africa’s wilderness was “authentic, untouched, full of big game – so enormous that it seemed inexhaustible. Everyone agreed that it was too big to be destroyed ”. Today, however, it is not much more than a “tourist-infested parking lot”, Peter Beard wistfully said looking back.
Wilderness and world stars
As soon as his literary legacy was finished, the updated new edition of the XXL monograph “Peter Beard” was completed when he disappeared on a walk in the forest at the end of March 2020 at the age of 82. His family later reported his death. Peter Beard leaves behind a widow, Nejma, and a daughter, Zara.
But his artistic oeuvre as a retrospective remains: visually stunning, bizarre and brilliant at the same time, enthusiastic and moving, 700 pages, five kilograms.
Peter Beard was one of the great wildlife and fashion photographers of the 20th century. He worked with Francis Bacon and Salvador Dalí, designed diaries with Andy Warhol, went on tour with Truman Capote and the Rolling Stones, was friends with David Bowie and Jackie Kennedy. As a Vogue fashion photographer, he is the discoverer of model legends Veruschka and Iman.
Chronicler of a destroyed world
His photo collages told stories. Like hardly anyone else, Beard knew how to use photographs like a canvas – mostly an elephant, a tied rhinoceros, a safari scene, a human being.
Then he garnished, assembled, drew, commented on them with memories, snatches of conversation, ornaments, contact sheets, snippets of newspapers, decorated them with feathers, bones, tree bark, even with drops of animal blood.
He often linked fashion photographs with the pictures of African big game. For his most famous photo book, “The End of the Game”, he began documenting dying elephants and rhinos, capturing in shocking black-and-white pictures how the animals starved in their far too small reserves, 35,000 elephants and 5,000 alone Rhinos in a single year of drought in Tsavo National Park.
Peter Beard said of this unstoppable destruction of nature by humans: “The deeper the white man went to Africa, the faster life flowed out of it, out of the plains and out of the bush.”
“Peter Beard”, Taschen Verlag, 100 euros