A black-and-white photograph surrounded by a collage of supplementary elements, The End of the Game, 1966/2013, is an iconic example of Peter Beard's ouevre. More significant than its quintessential style, however, is its title, a direct reference to Beard's first and most famous book. Published in 1965, the book, also titled The End of the Game, explores the complicated relationship between man and animal, and how that relationship shifts - first subtly, then dramatically - over time, eventually reaching a point of no return: the beginning of the end. The book is a compilation of twenty years' worth of research and photography, much of which manifests itself in this poignant and compelling work.
The principal element of the work is a black-and-white photograph that captures a massive herd of elephants traversing a dry and barren land. The pack marches into the horizon, its collective of charcoal-gray bodies contrasting starkly against the white haze of dust and clouds in the sky. The photograph's frame is a stylized reef of brilliant colors, each one layered upon one another as if grains of sediment accrued over time. The haunting sequence of images that runs along its top is an extraction from Beard's book, as are the portraits that book-end the sequence on either side: Philip Percival, the English safari guide and big game hunter; Karen Blixen, the heroine of Out of Africa who lured Beard to the continent; Larsili, a native gunbearer who assisted him on an unforgettable buffalo hunt. Their incorporation strengthens the correlation between this work and the book, which was largely shaped by their stories and the paramount roles they played in Beard's own African experiences.
Perhaps most preeminent is the text at the photograph's base, handwritten as if a journal entry and a common inclusion in Beard's works. Lifted directly from the book's epilogue, it addresses the severity of the dwindling elephant population, putting into words the immediate disparity felt in the featured photographs. The principal photograph recalls times when herds used to roam free, before walls were erected and ditches were dug to confine the elephants within artificial boundaries, thus interrupting their natural migration patterns. In this capacity, the work, like its namesake book, is as much a commentary on the tangible destruction of nature, as proffered by the series of skeletal remains of baby elephants, as it is on its less discernible but nevertheless potent destruction: the end of nature's cycles and patterns, the disruption of its equilibrium and harmony.
In a statement that echoes the message of this work, Beard acknowledges that Philip Percival understood this urgency more than anyone: "He knew that someday there would be a real crisis, that the harmonies and balances of the early days were too far altered, that the interrelationships had been overmanipulated and that the new densities would be unable to support themselves, that the business of saving the game required more than sanctimonious sacrifices on the surface." (P. Beard, The End of the Game, New York, 1977, p. 230.)