Nature Photographer and Studio 54 Staple Peter Beard Was a Man From a Bygone Era

Equally well versed in nightlife and wildlife, Beard was the type of magnetic figure who epitomized 20th century Americana.

Peter Beard with a goat. Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

On Sunday, the East Hampton Town Police confirmed the death of photographer Peter Beard, who had gone missing approximately 19 days earlier near his home on Long Island’s East End. Beard, who was 82 years old when he died, had been experiencing dementia and wandered off from his house, and his body was eventually discovered in Camp Hero State Park. Beard’s career as a photographer was an illustrious and varied one. He established a home in Kenya’s Ngong Hills in the 1960s after graduating from Yale. It was there that Beard discovered a passion for the continent  that fueled both the images he captured, which were displayed at shows at the International Center of Photography in New York and the Centre National de la Photographie in Paris, and the writing he did, which included the book The End of the Game. 

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Diana Vreeland and supermodel Veruschka look at Peter Beard’s photographs from Africa in 1975. Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images

In The End of the Game, Beard made a series of remarkably prescient observations about the destruction and mass death of wild animals due to human intervention, and with his wildlife photography, Beard also drew attention to the carcasses of elephants in order to illustrate his points about the necessity of natural conservation. It also helped that Beard himself was a walking advertisement for his own grave points: a remarkably handsome son of heirs to both tobacco and railroad fortunes. The photographer was rich enough to spend his entire life doing exactly what he pleased, and pursuing only interests that he was deeply passionate about.

Supermodel Iman with Peter Beard, who discovered her. Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Beard was also friends with the artist Francis Bacon, and the two creatives depicted each other in their respective works several times. Because of his frequent dalliances at the Studio 54 nightclub in Manhattan, Beard also got to be friends with Andy Warhol, and at some point in his life he was even lucky enough to become a close companion of Salvador Dalí.

Ultimately, Beard’s artwork and life both define a classically rangy American attitude that doesn’t seem to exist anymore: he followed his muse wherever that took him, producing fascinating work along the way and looking incredible while doing it all.

Nature Photographer and Studio 54 Staple Peter Beard Was a Man From a Bygone Era