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This exceptional large-format work well demonstrates Peter Beard's unique relationship with his subject matter and with the medium of photography. At the heart of his enterprise, and of this spectacular work, is his on-going written and visual account of the relentless destruction of Africa's wild animals and their habitat by the hand of man.
In 1965, as a young man, Beard published his first and most influential book The End of the Game. The title spells out the stark message that emerged from his time already spent in Africa. He was to devote much of his life to his document of this poignant theme.
The present triptych includes an image that had become among his best known and most emblematic. This depiction of a group of orphaned cheetahs - shown here as three successive frames from his roll of 35mm film - catches our eye and touches our hearts, at one initial level through our instinctive sympathy for the bereaved animals, whose expressions are laden with the sadness of their plight; but the emotional pull goes deeper as these cubs come to symbolise the tragedy of the senseless destruction of wildlife, either as a consequence of sport, of poaching or through the remorseless encroachment of man and the erosion of the natural habitat of these and other magnificent beasts.
Beard's instinctive rejection of the perfectionism that is hailed as an attribute of fine photography is expressed in his willful refusal to treat the print as an object of veneration. It is used as just one element in an expressive work to which he adds other layers of information and effects. Here he has collaged numerous other images, some his own, others 'found', each a fragment of what becomes a diaristic account of his life. We find the portrait of Karen Blixen whose Out of Africa first lured him to this continent. Beard has added an emotive text, decorative flourishes, and signature smears of blood, bringing their own macabre and visceral dimension to the work. We are reminded, in the density and multi-media character of this artefact, of the extraordinary over-scaled diary pages that have been a constant thread through the decades of Beard's career and in which he has vividly illustrated the story of his life - an extraordinary life lived as a stubbornly independent adventurer and as an artist who has created his own distinct medium.