American artist and photographer Peter Beard has died at 82-years-old. The news was announced by his family. “We are all heartbroken by the confirmation of our beloved Peter’s death. We want to express our deep gratitude to the East Hampton police and all who aided them in their search, and also to thank the many friends of Peter and our family who have sent messages of love and support during these dark days.” Just a week prior, Beard’s family has announced that the photographer had been missing for ten days, having disappeared from his Long Island property on March 31st. The family confirmed that he “died where he lived, in nature.” Beard, who suffered from dementia, was located in a densely wooded area in Camp Hero State Park in Montauk.
The family highlighted his exceptional life. Born in New York, in 1938, he graduated from Yale University and soon developed an insatiable curiosity with Africa. From a young age, Beard illustrated diaries—notably contributing with Andy Warhol, but also Salvador Dalí and Francis Bacon; he toured with Truman Capote and the Rolling Stones.
Beard discovered Iman Abdulmajid in Kenya, in 1975. In conversation with Vogue Arabia editor-in-chief Manuel Arnaut with Abdulmajid for her March 2018 cover shoot, she recalls, “During my first year in Nairobi, a man stopped me in the street and asked if I had ever been photographed. I thought he was trying to pick me up, so I ignored him, but he insisted. To get rid of him, I said, ‘Yes, of course I have.’ In my mind I was thinking, what do these people think – that I have never seen a camera? After his advances, I allowed him to photograph me. In exchange, he paid my tuition, which was something like US $8 000. He accepted, and that was my first negotiation. The man who photographed me was Peter Beard.”
Beard convinced Abdulmajid to fly to the United States in October, 1975. Her first shoot was for American Vogue. The supermodel recalls that when she first started working, black models were not paid the same as white models. “There was a very well-masked racism. At my first press conference with Peter, he told me to pretend as if I couldn’t speak any English. This was a good way of finding out what people really thought of me.”
Beard also struck up a friendship with Danish author Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) in the early Sixties and purchased 50 acres next to her farm. He documented Kenya’s population explosion, and witnessed its stressed animal populations, including starving elephants dying by tens of thousands, documenting all with his diaries, photographs, and collages. He used photographs “as a canvas” to superimpose objects, newspaper clippings, and always accompanied by his handwriting and even animal blood used as paint.