For Nejma and Zara Beard
20 April 2020 – This morning The New York Times reported that photographer and artist Peter Beard’s body was found in Camp Hero State Park near his home in Montauk, NY. He was 82. He had been missing for 19 days. Peter had a huge impact on my life. I created this post in Peter’s memory and to pay respect to Peter’s wife Nejma and daughter Zara.
April 19, 2020, An excerpt from the statement on behalf of Peter Beard’s family:
Peter was an extraordinary man who led an exceptional life. He lived life to the fullest; he squeezed every drop out of every day. He was relentless in his passion for nature, unvarnished and unsentimental but utterly authentic always. He was an intrepid explorer, unfailingly generous, charismatic, and discerning. Peter defined what it means to be open: open to new ideas, new encounters, new people, new ways of living and being. Always insatiably curious, he pursued his passions without restraints and perceived reality through a unique lens. Anyone who spent time in his company was swept up by his enthusiasm and his energy. He was a pioneering contemporary artist who was decades ahead of his time in his efforts to sound the alarm about environmental damage. His visual acuity and elemental understanding of the natural environment was fostered by his long stays in the bush and the “wild-deer-ness” he loved and defended. He died where he lived: in nature.”
The last time I saw Peter was at his home in Montauk during the summer of 2016. My wife, Anne Petermann, and I were invited by Peter’s wife, Nejma, to spend some time with Peter around the occasion of his retrospective exhibit at the Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton, NY.
Anne and I had a great time in Montauk with Peter and his family. We all drank wine, shared stories and, always creating, Peter decorated and signed his book Zara’s Tales, for us. The book was a tribute to his daughter.
The last time I spoke to Peter prior to our trip to Montauk was in Manhattan in January 1978 most likely at his 40th birthday party at Studio 54.
The first time I met Peter was in 1977 when Peter had his first one-person show at Manhattan’s International Center of Photography, The End of the Game – The Last Word from Paradise. Over four months I photographed Beard and the people, many celebrities, that were part of Beard’s life prior to and during the exhibit’s installation and the subsequent opening.
Those photographs are in the Peter Beard Studio files and have illustrated several books and articles.
In 2015, on the 50th anniversary of Beard’s book, The End of the Game – The Last Word from Paradise, with the support of Nejma Beard and the Peter Beard Studio, the ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery for Contemporary Art in Buffalo, NY presented my work Peter Beard’s The End of the Game – The Last Word from Paradise, Revisited.
To me Peter was not only a great documentary photographer and artist, but also an ecologist who understood the connections of life and death. I learned much from Peter’s photography and ecological perspectives that have helped shaped my work in photography and how I have come to understand Earth with a greater depth. For this I will always be grateful. Safe and wild journey’s Peter. – Orin Langelle
The following are the photographs from that exhibit:
All photographs ©Orin Langelle except as noted
2015 is the 50th anniversary of artist Peter Beard’s book, The End of the Game – The Last Word from Paradise. Beard spent many years in Africa documenting the impact of Western civilization on elephants, other wildlife and the people who lived there.
In 1977 Beard had his first one-person show at Manhattan’s International Center of Photography, The End of the Game – The Last Word from Paradise.
Over four months Langelle photographed Beard and the people, many celebrities, that were part of Beard’s life prior to and during the exhibit’s installation and the subsequent opening, plus Beard’s 40th birthday party at Studio 54 in January of 1978.
Langelle’s photographs are of events surrounding Beard’s 1977’s The End of the Game. The ICP installation consisted of Beard’s photographs, elephant carcasses, burned diaries, taxidermy, African artifacts, books and personal memorabilia.
In the early 60s Beard worked at Kenya’s Tsavo National Park, during which time he photographed and documented (illegally) the demise of over 35,000 elephants and 5,000 Black Rhinos.
Peter Beard stabs forearm above wrist to use blood to enhance artwork on photo of dying elephant. Langelle’s photo published in the Adventures and Misadventures of Peter Beard in Africa, by Jon Bowmaster (1993)
“The deeper the white man went into Africa, 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.” — Peter Beard
Beard’s work and commentary shed light onto what happens when ecosystems are disrupted, people who are in balance with nature pushed out of their natural habitats, and the encroachment of western civilization. That was fifty years ago.
Beard observed and recorded, first hand, that the model of elephant conservation started in Kenya in the early 1960s was in fact driving tens of thousands of the animals to starvation as they were rounded up into a ‘protected’ park and the indigenous hunters outlawed.
He made it clear that overpopulated elephant herds also showed cardio-vascular disease, stress and density dependent diseases, exactly what humans are experiencing now. He argued that what happened to the elephants is now happening to humans.
“For centuries these bow hunters lived, and lived well, among the elephants and rhinos. A natural order was established – coexistence – symbiosis! They all were surviving nicely, in balance until the white man came along to save them. The whites staked out protective boundaries, arrested the hunter-gathers and upset the balance. Concentrated populations of reproducing pachyderms overpopulated and overate their food supply. Disaster was then at hand.” — Peter Beard
Beard’s perspective on ecological balance was considered extremely controversial among the elite ‘conservation’ community.
Langelle’s work at the International Center of Photography gave him a rare insight into Beard, whose controversial views on ecology then, are just as relevant today.
Beard assembles remnants from a fire that destroyed his Montauk, NY windmill where he stored rare books, works of art, and twenty years of his diaries. The fire occurred only a few months prior to his exhibition at ICP. These and other charred remains were displayed at the show
Babatunde Olatunji (left), a Nigerian drummer, educator, social activist and recording artist with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis at opening for The End of the Game. One of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ major accomplishments was her financial contribution to the arts and historic preservation—ICP was one of the recipients
Cornell Capa (left), Caroline Bouvier Kennedy (center) with Beard. Cornell Capa was the Director of the International Center of Photography and brother to Magnum Photo Agency co-founder and renowned war photographer Robert Capa. Caroline Kennedy is daughter of past President John Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
At the opening Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (center), an American author. In a career spanning over 50 years, Vonnegut published fourteen novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction
“We wrapped the whole building, this great Delano & Aldrich mansion on Fifth Avenue, with the photo of a herd of cow elephants that I’d taken in Buffalo Springs, Kenya, by the Uaso Nyiro River, in 1960. The wrap was dry-mounted on canvas and about 75 feet long–Minnesota Mining claimed it was the biggest print they’d ever done. But the night before the opening, there was a hurricane-force squall and it just took the whole thing down.
“We just piled up all the scraps in the interior stairway and, amazingly, they looked like the remains of the Tsavo elephants all heaped up under the half-eaten trees, waiting to be collected for bone meal.”
From Peter Beard Volume II, Taschen (2006)
To watch an excellent short film on PETER BEARD by director Derek Peck, which played at the opening reception and is currently available for viewing in the in the ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery during the duration of the exhibit, please go to PETER BEARD: A Wild Life
Peter Beard vs. “CON-servation”
Peter Beard was far ahead of his time when he exposed the impacts of white incursion and western-style conservation on Africa’s wildlife populations. But his critical findings in Africa tended to be overshadowed by his actions back in Manhattan. Beard was impulsive liked to speak his mind regardless of political correctness. This cost him greatly both personally and professionally.
His controversial actions and remarks led to many people not taking him seriously. In addition, because his findings in Africa challenged the Conservation Elite, his views were censored in many circles.
An example of this is the following excerpt from The End of the Game (2008) in which Beard describes his experience with of this type of conservation and his attempts to counter it by correcting a misleading Sixty Minutes segment with a letter that blamed the massive die-off of elephants in Tsavo National Park in Kenya on poaching.
“In the 1977 edition of The End of the Game, it seemed politically unwise to include details of the conservation efforts that had paradoxically led to the die-off of tens of thousands of elephants and black rhinos in a single national park…
“The rich woodland cover that had sheltered Tsavo for centuries was eaten away by an expanding population of elephants confined within artificial boundaries drawn by a rapidly expanding human population busy denying any such population problem. All this combined–or rather conspired–to cause the desertification of eight thousand square miles of Commiphora canopy woodland in a matchless preserve, the largest in East Africa. A director of the Tsavo Research Team estimates that thirty thousand elephants died there from starvation, constipation and heart disease–all directly attributable to density and mismanagement…drought was blamed.
“ ‘Water for Wild Elephants’ and ‘Buy and Elephant a drink’ programs raised millions of emergency dollars. At the same time, traditional hunters, who had coexisted for centuries in harmony with the fauna, were arrested and imprisoned at great cost. Fund-raising was all that matered. CBS’ ‘Sixty Minutes’ produced a program confirming that ‘poachers’ were to blame for the famine, a program that ironically succeeded in raising large sums for anti-poaching forces. A team of Ford Foundation scientists, who counted forty thousand elephants using the park, were forced to resign for suggesting overpopulation as a problem. (When I worked for the park in the early sixties, conservation authorities estimated a total of three thousand elephants using the park.)”
Sixty Minutes Letter Department
New York, NY
Wednesday, December 17, 1980
I was distressed by your last Sunday’s Tsavo East elephant segment, which sadly misrepresented the tragedy of those elephants.
As much as I can sympathize with the Guardians of Eden–the wardens and their wives–in their earnest efforts to “Save the Game,” the real problem is saving the habitat–preserving the food supply.
Over 30,000 overcrowded elephants (and untold thousands of rhinos) have torturously starved to death in Tsavo East since December 1971. They did not have the luck to die of arrow or bullet wounds…lying on their sides, in your last Sunday’s segment (with ivory firmly in place) they were starving to death from overpopulation and from mismanagement by foreign interests–not indigenous activities.
Long before European “game-savers” arrived on the scene, local hunting tribes such as the Wakamba, Waliangula, and Giriama coexisted with the elephants. It was only when the traditional hunters were rounded up and imprisoned for “poaching” that the elephant population began to expand and that breeding, now unchecked, consumed the limited habitat.
We can no longer afford to twist the truth–ecologically, man is strikingly similar to elephants.
Peter Beard &
Murray Watson, Assistant Director
Ford Foundation Tsavo Research Team
CC: Don Hewitt, Al Wasserman, Harry Reasoner, Morley Safer, Mingette Holliman @ Sixty Minutes, delivered by hand.
Though hand-delivered along with a copy of The End of the Game and a handwritten statement by Nobel Laureate Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, Beard wrote that the letters never saw the desk of Sixty Minutes Executive Producer Don Hewitt and that every single letter proceeded to get lost.
The same Tsavo show was rerun a few months later, unaltered.
(from pages 276-278, The End of The Game 2008 edition)
The Prophecy of Peter Beard and the Upcoming UN Climate Conference in Paris: A Lesson Lost
Peter Beard, in the 1960s and 70s witnessed and warned of the devastating impacts of removing indigenous peoples from their lands in the name of conservation–namely the upset of the balance of the ecosystem, and resulting devastation.
But it seems the conservation elite have learned nothing.
The next major UN Climate Summit is scheduled to begin on November 30 in Paris. It is being hyped as THE summit that will result in the global deal to finally address the climate crisis.
It will not.
Instead, organizations, indigenous peoples, social movements and others are condemning this summit as the place where business as usual will be enabled and empowered through non-binding agreements and profit-oriented false solutions that will lead to global climate disaster.
One of the primary false solutions that will be promoted at this UN Climate Summit is the so-called “protection” of some of the last remaining intact forests and ecosystems on the planet as carbon sinks. The carbon stored by these lands will then be used as “offsets” to enable big polluters to continue their ongoing contamination of our atmosphere with CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
These lands are not uninhabited. They are occupied and protected by Indigenous Peoples and local communities. In fact, studies have pointed out that the most intact ecosystems remaining on the planet are those inhabited by the local communities and Indigenous Peoples that depend on them.
But this UN-backed carbon offsetting scheme requires ensuring that none of the carbon in these ecosystems is altered in any way. This, then, means that the people who have maintained these rich lands must be removed so the carbon stored there is “protected,” from the subsistence uses of these communities, in much the same way that the elephants in Kenya were “protected” by putting them in a park and removing the local indigenous subsistence hunters that had helped maintain the balance of the elephant populations.
As Peter Beard witnessed first hand and extensively documented, this type of Western “human exclusion” style conservation upsets the balance of the land and in Tsavo led to the tragedy of the mass-starvation of tens of thousands of overpopulated elephants.
Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project
Artist’s Statement from gallery director & photographer Orin Langelle
Almost two years ago, when I first began a statement for this show and my time at ICP, I wrote, “The end of the 70s–The Beat lost; the lingering remnants of leftover hope from the 60s; the elephants–all dying out as neoliberalism and the age of globalization, already in motion, were forcibly mainlined into our collective conscience.
“In retrospect, I see all that now. At the time that I took the photographs I never knew how bad it really was going to get—but I knew it was already getting bad.”
In the two years since, I’ve been overdosed by the climate chaos that has worsened, politicians acting like poor comedians at best – monsters at worst, and am astounded by the lack of real news that people are able to receive.
With the support of the Peter Beard Studio, ¡Buen Vivir! Gallery presents this exhibition to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Beard’s book, The End of the Game – The Last Word from Paradise. The 50th anniversary edition of the book, soon to be released, can be ordered from Taschen.
I would like to thank Nejma Beard, Peter’s wife, for the kindness and cooperation she has shown me over the past decade. I would also like to thank Carol Cornicelli, Eleni Cocordas, and Jill Bloomer from the Peter Beard Studio for their invaluable assistance.
Orin Langelle Buffalo, NY
Additional items not shown in the exhibit include: Lion and original invitation from the exhibit [Lion photos by Beard/Invitation from the International Center of Photography]; Art from Peter Beard’s “Hog Ranch” near Nairobi, Kenya: Crocodile; South African Mask [Artist Unknown]; Art from Rhodesia: Rhinoceros [Artist unknown]; ICP “Catalogue” from the original show [4 ½’ x 3 ¼’]; March 17 -24, 1978 W featuring an article about Peter Beard with photo by Langelle; Art by Peter Beard [2’ x 1 ½’] collage from Beard Diaries
Also displayed in the Exhibit:
Gourds with photograph,of Iman photographed by Langelle at Peter Beard’s Hog Ranch near Nairobi, Kenya (2006). Iman, left of center, was “discovered” by Peter Beard and subsequently moved to the U.S. to begin a modeling career. She was married to the late David Bowie
Poster below for the 50th anniversary of artist Peter Beard’s book
The End of the Game – The Last Word from Paradise
and can be ordered from Taschen
Special Note: Seven photographs by Orin Langelle’s from this exhibit are included in a show at the Gordon Parks Foundation in Pleasantville, NY.
The exhibit at the Parks Foundation, Gordon Parks: Collages by Peter Beard, features artwork made by Beard over the course of the long friendship between him and Parks. The exhibit ran through May 28, 2016