eter Beard, the photographer with a famed body of work and perhaps an equally famous social life, was found dead in Montauk on Sunday at 82. He had dementia and experienced at least one stroke, the New York Times reported, and had disappeared from his home there nearly three weeks ago.
Beard’s primary subject over his long career was African nature and wildlife. He was an environmentalist by bent and an artist by reputation, though he didn’t like to call himself one. His photographs and diaries, sometimes splattered with his own blood or that of animals, were beloved and displayed in galleries, but often he spoke in terms of his own pursuit of pleasure and intrigue rather than a career.
Beard had at least one near-death experience during his work, when a cow elephant charged him in 1996 while he was shooting in Kenya; he arrived at Nairobi Hospital without a pulse. He shot fashion for Vogue and concerts for the Rolling Stones and staunchly discussed himself—and his much-documented love life, drug use, circle of famous friends, and party appearances—in grandiose, louche images.
Beard was born rich and aristocratic in Manhattan in 1938. He went to the Buckley School and Yale and discovered his fervor for shooting in Africa early in his career. As his life became commonly associated with fashion and glamour, he was credited, however accurately, with launching Iman’s modeling career. “He says he found me with goats and sheep—that I was some kind of shepherdess in the jungle,” she told in 1996. “I never saw a jungle in my life.… But Peter lives in a fantasy world. He loves the idea of being my Svengali.”
Beard styled himself a man-about-town and told V.F. in 1996 that he was opposed to marriage: “Biologically it’s very unnatural. It’s masochism and torture the way it’s been organized.” Nonetheless he is survived by his wife Nejma and their daughter Zara. He was married twice before. By all accounts he was tireless, whether in the course of his day job or nightlife. “He was relentless in his passion for nature, unvarnished and unsentimental but utterly authentic always,” his family wrote in a statement on Sunday. “Anyone who spent time in his company was swept up by his enthusiasm and his energy,” they added.