Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Our Man in Africa: Peter Beard

Taschen Books has just reissued Peter Beard's landmark book on Africa, The End of the Game which was originally published in 1965. From the publisher:

This landmark volume is assembled from hundreds of historical photographs and writings, starting with the building of the Mombasa Railroad ("The Lunatic Line") and the opening-up of darkest Africa. The stories behind the heroic figures in Beard's work—Theodore Roosevelt, Frederick Courtney Selous, Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), Denys Finch-Hatton (the romantic hero of Out of Africa), Philip Percival, J. A. Hunter, Ernest Hemingway, and J. H. Patterson (who became famous as the relentless hunter of the "Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo")—are all contextualized by Beard's own photographs of the enormous region. Shot in the 1960s and '70s in the Tsavo lowlands during the elephant-habitat crisis and then in Uganda parks, Beard's studies of elephant and hippo population dynamics document the inevitable overpopulation and starvation of tens of thousands of elephants and rhinos.

Beard is not only a photographer and writer but a creative force to be reckoned with. I also strongly recommend his book Zara's Tales, a collection of stories about living in Africa that he compiled for his daughter. I LOVED this book and so did Publisher's Weekly:

An adventurer with a conservationist's calling (preserving East Africa's wildlife) and a photographer's craft, Beard captures 'the old world, the wild life, the wild animals, and the wonderful things we may or may not have left behind' with words and pictures (some photographs, some drawings and lots of 'dawdles and dipsy doodles'). Monster lions offer 'a midnight fright-night incident so dark and sudden I can only tell it to Zara in the daytime,' and a large crocodile takes up residence at a camp site. There are moments of quiet beauty, as when 'a family of giraffes float past our open tents like shimmering ghosts in the moonlight,' and wild days with 'the most eccentric local animal trapper in the history of this eccentric calling.' Occasionally Beard meditates on life or remonstrates on the factors threatening it. The bongos Beard captures on film and the elephants he does not manage to outrun hold the book's center...Composed with a writer's ear and a photographer's eye, this is a book to share, something for both the young Zaras and the sophisticated Peters.

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