Editor’s note: Wildlife photographer Peter Beard has died at 82. Image is of Peter Beard and Lou Reed.
PUBLISHED: THE HILL: Changing America by Cyril Christo, Opinion Contributor April 21, 2020
““What was the meaning of life during the 300 million year old reign of the dinosaurs?”–Peter Beard
The famed wildlife photographer opened our eyes on the perils facing the natural world. A
Peter, for decades you called out to the great spaces and triumphs and challenges of Africa, and reminded us that our species is “completely deadly…look at the charts and see where we are going. Squeezing nature into impossible, tight environments that don’t work…where there’s no balance.” Africa, what you correctly called “the greatest show on Earth.” Way before it became fashionable you reminded the world in your inimitable way that the grandest expression was nature’s. Or a quote from Dante you could have used,” Nature is the art of God.”
“We eradicated the traditional hunters.” Our conservation policies are hypocritical, if one judges by how certain huge conservation groups have pushed native peoples off the land to make way for so-called species protection. Hypocrisy. Peter, you called it out decades ago. The dynamic diverse habitat has been “homogenized, pasteurized, similarized” as Isak Dinesen underscored.
Some called you a mix of Tarzan, and Byron, some, a sybarite in kikoy reverberant with the wild and the bush where you found your calling, trumpeting your song like a human elephant seduced by the exquisite face of the world. But in fact, your voice was prophetic.
“The eternal message of nature,” you called it out decades ago.
In your photographs sometimes signed in blood, you were much more than an eye. You were the voice of a seer. For many the photo was enough. For you it was a warning, an emblem, the bricolage of the worlds you assembled for those who did not understand that taming, paving over paradise would mean the loss of ourselves. Africa was God and the Devil rolled into one as Dinesen once described. That you proved beyond the measure of a doubt. Africa’s joys, her challenges, her terrors become emblazoned in your DNA. Others might have seen you as a dandy, an incorrigible fop. I know better. You lived triumphantly, carnally and built a perfect empire in the simple tent of your mind that trusted in the miracle of this safari that is this life. You dared live several lives played as one beyond the limits of the human frame, a rogue cloud among those of us terrestrially bound.
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