Charging lions, smiling natives, preening supermodels -- all have their place in the life of intrepid photographer Peter Beard. Born in 1938 into an affluent family, the dashing Beard eschewed studies in medicine in favor of art. Reading Karen Blixen's Out of Africa compelled him to visit that continent in his youth, and there he found his purpose: using his photos, diaries, and collages to document the destruction of Africa's animal population. Among his many books: 1965's The End of the Game, an appalling chronicle of the demise of Africa's wildlife. Recently he released Peter Beard: 50 Years of Portraits, which he'll promote in Miami's Design District this week in conjunction with an exhaustive exhibition of his work.
In his other incarnation, Beard is known as a jet-setting fashion photographer. Credited with discovering the exotic beauty Iman (now Mrs. David Bowie), he was married to Cheryl Tiegs briefly and was a regular at Studio 54 in its heyday. From a cell phone outside New York City's Downtown Cipriani restaurant ("Downtown, of course; uptown is out of the question"), Beard spoke to New Times.
New Times: What do you find so enchanting about Africa?
It has a minimum of elements which you might call the galloping rot. It had authenticity. Of course it's losing it by copying us.
What's the "galloping rot?"
McDonald's, you know, wristwatches, undershirts.
If you could be reincarnated as one of the animals you photograph, what would it be?
A bush baby or a hippopotamus. Hippos have a pretty interesting life in the water. Bush babies leap around. They can jump about twenty feet.
What is the origin of your diaries?
Do you keep a journal on a daily basis?
No. I overdid it.
What kind of music do you like to listen to?
What book are you currently reading?
I've got a couple because I'm a bad reader: Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformations and Alien Encounters by John E. Mack and The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge by Jeremy Narby.
Have you ever eaten or drunk in the Peter Beard Tap Room in the Carltun (a restaurant and banquet facility) on Long Island?
Yes, I have! On opening night.
What would you have become if you didn't become who you are?
Oh my God! Spoiled rotten, I'm sure.