The lover who cheated on life to become a photographic force for nature
As he chronicled man’s catastrophic impact on nature, Peter Beard cavorted with stars and toyed with peril
Peter Beard, who has died at the age of 82, was an American photographer known as much for his Byronic charm, famous friends and rackety way of life as he was for his influential images of African wildlife, which in the 1960s were among the first to chronicle the increasingly destructive relationship between nature and man.
In 1961, while on a visit to Kenya, Beard was introduced to Karen Blixen, the author of Out of Africa. He subsequently bought 45 acres of land next to her coffee farm in the Ngong Hills and was to base himself at Hog Ranch for much of the next four decades. One of the conditions of his acquiring it, imposed by the Kenyatta government, was that he chronicle the changing condition of the landscape.
When Beard had first travelled to Africa a few years before, he later recalled, its teeming herds of game had seemed inexhaustible. “Everyone agreed,” he said of its glory, “that it was too big to be destroyed.” Over the next few years, however, while working at Tsavo National Park, he began to record the steady decline in the numbers of elephant, hippo and black rhino, the victims not merely of white hunters but also of the human expansion which encroached on their habitat. “The deeper the white man went into Africa,” wrote Beard, “the faster the life flowed out of it, off the plains and out of the bush ... vanishing in acres of trophies and hides and carcasses.”..