The late Peter Beard’s unique blend of photography, collages and diaries is now in a single volume book. Steve Fairclough delves inside it
If you admire the fine art wildlife photography of the likes of Nick Brandt and David Yarrow then you probably have the late Peter Beard to thank for this. However, Beard’s artistic bent extends far beyond documenting wildlife through a lens as his life’s work combined collages of photography, ecology and diary entries in a unique blend of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, which translates as ‘total artwork’. This impressive 770-page tome is a 2020 update of the original two-volume limited edition book from 2006, but it is tinged with sadness… in between the announcement of the book’s launch and its actual release Peter Beard sadly lost his life (sometime in April 2020) after going missing from his US home for 19 days. Yet it was a life thoroughly well lived – one that also saw Beard shoot fashion for Vogue and Elle, marry the US model Cheryl Tiegs, survive a near-fatal elephant attack, and count Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Truman Capote, Mick Jagger and Francis Bacon among his friends. Few, if any, stones are left unturned in this mammoth compendium of his life and work. It includes sections on his diaries and collages as well as an in-depth interview with Beard in which he discusses his life, projects and those he met and befriended along the way.
Visually it’s an all-out assault on the senses that is, in turns, sexy, unconventional, energetic, disturbing and provocative. Who else would think of posing topless supermodel Janice Dickinson in Kenyan grasslands beside a leopard that’s licking her arm? This is far from a standard photographic monograph but, then again, Peter Beard was far from a standard photographer or, indeed, a normal man. If you were writing a book about a movie- star-handsome photographer who lived life to the full, then Peter Beard would be the ultimate blueprint. It’s a glorious book that’s multi-faceted and, overall, is an artistic tour de force.
Peter Beard By Peter & Nejma Bear
Published by Taschen, £100, 770 pages, hardback, ISBN 978-3-8365-7742-7 (multilingual English/French/German edition) ★★★★★