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Photographer Peter Beard revisited at iBuen Vivir! gallery

The deeper the white man went into Africa, the faster the life flowed out of it...vanishing in acres of trophies and hides and carcasses. —Peter Beard

The current show at ¡Buen Vivir! gallery commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of celebrity photographer and visual artist and environmentalist Peter Beard’s art book exposé on the mass destruction of African elephant herds and other wildlife. The book, entitled The End of the Game-—The Last Word from Paradise, is being reprinted this year in an anniversary edition by the publisher Taschen. The exhibit is titled The End of the Game—The Last Word from Paradise, Revisited. The exhibit consists of photos by Orin Langelle and photos and artwork and writing by Beard. Several copies of the reprint edition of the book are available for inspection, and some of his mad scramble of words and pictures artworks. Wall copy text explains how, beginning in the 1960s, working at Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park, Beard photographed and documented the demise of more than 35,000 elephants and 5,000 Black Rhinos.

Beard was and is a complicated person and his conservation message is complex. Too complex perhaps for the mass media to quite grasp. The demise of big game African wildlife, as Beard saw it, was primarily due to misguided conservation efforts. The media preferred to focus on something more simple and straightforward, like poaching. Further explained in wall copy. In the 1980s, a CBS Sixty Minutes segment attributed the die-off of wildlife at the more than 5,000-square-mile Tsavo East park primarily to poaching. Beard contended that the conservation effort that resulted in establishment of the park was more the heart of the problem.

Long before the 1948 creation of the park—which Beard avers was instigated more by European “game-savers,” as he calls them, than indigenous Africans—native hunter-gatherer tribes co-existed with the elephants. Kept the elephant population in balance was the idea. Following the creation of the park, Beard says, the native hunter-gatherers were rounded up and imprisoned for “poaching,” which then resulted in elephant overpopulation, which led to depletion of food stocks and sources in the elephant habitat area, and ultimately desertification of the habitat area, and elephants died of starvation in vast numbers.

Beard wrote that in the early days of his work in the Tsavo East park, in the 1960s, conservation authorities estimated a total of three thousand elephants inhabited the park. Later, some Ford Foundation scientists counted forty thousand elephants in the park. Beard said the Ford Foundation scientists were forced to resign for suggesting overpopulation as the problem.

A letter explaining the more complex—than poaching—situation was hand-delivered along with a copy of Beard’s book to a number of cognizant individuals in the Sixty Minutes program, including Morley Safer and Harry Reasoner, but had no effect. The Tsavo East show—unaltered—was rerun several months later.

The Langelle photos document two celebrational events of Beard’s career. A 1977 one-person show of Beard’s work at the Manhattan International Center of Photography, and the next year, 1978, his fortieth birthday party at Studio 54 in New York City. Lots of celebrities present at both events. To name some of the better known: Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Caroline Kennedy, Kurt Vonnegut. Some unidentified knockout beautiful women. Beard is 77 now, but in his earlier years he was movie star good looking, and based on the photos did not lack for female admirers. For a while he was married to Cheryl Tiegs.

Many beautiful women, none more so than Iman in a photo by Beard at his home base, called Hog Ranch, near Nairobi. The caption says Beard “discovered” Iman, who subsequently moved to the United States to start a modeling career, and that she is currently married to David Bowie.

The End of the Game—The Last Word from Paradise, Revisited exhibit continues until December 17.

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