Not your everyday jobbing snapper

Vanessa Thorpe meets Peter Beard, photographer and 'friend' to elephants

Inside a chic London gallery the American photographer Peter Beard is one of the few people not carrying a camera.

Around him lenses focus in on all sides. But he is not really interested in cameras, or even, for that matter, in photography.

"You go to buy a camera and you get blistered with all the new expensive technology. You would have to be an astronaut to understand it," he shouts, flailing an inky hand and dropping his glasses.

Beard, an itinerant playboy and wildlife fanatic, has never been anybody's jobbing snapper. The small exhibition of his work which opened on Thursday at the Michael Hoppen Gallery is Beard's first in Britain for many years and it centres on the provocative images that made his name in the 1960s. These prints are his quirky, early shots of animal skins, bones and tusks in close contrast with the scale and texture of the human body. With his taste for the perverse, or even the kinky, he is the Helmut Newton of the Serengeti

"I guess there are some people who are able to get away from the magazine disease, the Magnum brainwashing; nuns on the beach, an old bum leaning against an antique shop window. 'The family of man' of all those goody- goody photographers: the concerned photographers."

Beard is famous for his passion; whether for wildlife, for women or for high living. Once a good friend to Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol, during his Bohemian globe-trotting the fast-talking New Yorker has been gored to near-death by an elephant, jailed for imprisoning a poacher in his own wire snare, and married twice (first to the Newport socialite Minnie Cushing and then to the successful model Cheryl Tiegs).

But the core story is of a man who read Karen Blixen's 1937 novel Out of Africa in his youth, digested it whole and then went out to live it for real. He even managed to track down the elderly and reclusive author herself in Denmark and become her friend.

When Blixen finally died she left Beard all her photographic archives and he, with the help of family money, recreated her Kenyan dream, moving to his own ranch in the bush near her former Tsavo home.

Smudges of animal remains, dirt, blood, feathers, and intricate, inked patterns are Beard's way of making a photograph more than just the sum of its parts. He often inscribes quotations around the prints, a technique borrowed from the eclectic diary-cum-scrapbook that he keeps obsessively.

Its pages are full of pictures of beautiful women. All are friends; Liz Hurley, Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Hutton, Susie Bick and the supermodel Iman, (now Mrs David Bowie) whom he discovered in 1975 in Nairobi.

After reading Blixen's "golden book", Africa dominated his work. At the age of 24 he produced The End of the Game, a pictorial polemic about the chronic over-population and mismanagement of wildlife.

"British sentimentalism about animals is near-hysterical. I know they are ... sincere; they are just so far from the realities of nature.

"To survive, these animals are going to have to have a value. And it can't just be charity dollars in Bongo Bongo land. Animals have to be allowed to pay their own way, say, by marketing marked ivory.

His aerial shot of thousands of elephants trampling a ruined plain makes the point.

"Anyway, I don't like serious photography at all. My giant Polaroid portrait of Bacon is the only intelligent thing I have ever done.

"Hey, Al, what was the name of that beautiful girl I met last night? ..."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing