Peter Beard. Stress & Density


Peter Beard‘s life is of the stuff that Hollywood epics are made.

His great-grandfather G. G. Hill founded the Great Northern Railroad Company in the 19th century and by the time of his death had ammassed a fortune of some 53 million dollars. The tobacco heir Pierre Lorillard, Peter Beard‘s grandfather, founded the Tuxedo Company and was the inventor of the formal eveningdress of the same name.

Peter Beard was born in New York on January 22, 1938 and at first studied medicine, in compliance with his parents‘ wishes. His mother fancied bringing up a doctor, a governor, or a lawyer. But that was not to be: Peter Beard transferred to the art department at prestigious Yale University...

He was inspired and fascinated by Karen (“Tanja”) Blixen‘s book, “Out of Africa”, which moved him to visit Africa for the first time in the mid-50‘s. Later he made Karen Blixen‘s acquaintance, became her neighbour and photograhed her for the last time three months before her death. In 1961 he settled on Hog Ranch near Nairobi, and it is here that he found the central theme of his life: the destruction of the last animal paradises at the hands of man and civilisation. In 1965 he published his first book, “The End of the Game”, a brutal, shocking documentary of the history of wildlife in Africa as exemplified, in particular, by the dying out of the elephants.

“Stress & Density” - how did the exhibition come to get this name, he was asked last autumn in an interview for the Munich “Fotomagazin”. “That is the corner humanity is painting itself in to. In a world where every four days one million more people are added to this number...”

So who is Peter Beard? A world-famous photographer, playboy, friend of the world‘s rich and beautiful, member of the New York jet set, a regular in the legendary Studio 54, a close friend of Francis Bacon‘s, Andy Warhol‘s, Truman Capote‘s, Mick Jagger‘s, Jackie Onassis‘... Peter Beard has many faces. On the outside he looks like a cross between an American movie star and an English gentleman; but he is not just an Africa adventurer and bon vivant, he is an artist and Cassandra with a camera who creates disturbing, troubling chronicles of the destruction of the earth‘s wildlife paradises. And he has been doing this for a long time.

Since 1949 he has been compiling his famous “daybooks”, his pictorial diaries - book collages crammed out to the margins full of scribblings, and smudges: full of life itself - which continue to influence photographers and artists today.

But Peter Beard is also a fashion photographer: his fashion-photo spreads for the big international gloss magazines have an intensity and unmistakability that have never been surpassed. And 20 years ago he discovered a breathtaking, elegant African woman on the bustling streets of Nairobi, Iman, who thanks to him, went on to become a supermodel with a worldwide career...

Peter Beard lives and works in Africa.