“The deeper the white man went into Africa, the faster the life flowed out of it, off the plains and out of the bush…vanishing in acres of trophies and hides and carcasses” proclaimed renowned photographer and artist Peter Beard in his 1965 seminal publication The End Game, a tome highlighting the atrocities of man made destruction done to Africa’s wildlife in the National Parks of Kenya’s Tsavo lowlands and Uganda.
And in 2015, deeper the white man goes. July saw online outrage erupt over the merciless killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe, poached by US dentist Walter Palmer for a sum of $50,000. Meanwhile as the world mourned Cecil, five of Kenya’s endangered elephants were quietly slain in Tsavo, to the absent furor of almost no media attention.
This devastating poaching incident echoes The End Game’s haunting images and text that fill its 292 pages, which chronicle the same ruthless fate these endangered elephants were subject to half a century ago as they are today.
The 50th anniversary edition of The End Game by Taschen is an incredulous landmark then, in this era of unrelenting demand for both the reverence and destruction of the animal kingdom. Beard’s work reveals the damage done by human intervention in Africa as not only relevant, but necessary, in probing the continuing brutalities that ravage Africa’s wildlife.
With an updated foreword by renowned travel and fiction writer Paul Theroux, the limited edition of 5,000 copies are filled with beautifully nostalgic black and white photographs that adorn the publication’s pages, interjected by illustrations, handprints and even smears of Beard’s own blood, creating a visceral experience that reveals the lengths the photographer goes in his dedication to the animals and their landscape he painstakingly documents.
Exhibiting a powerful and poignant testimony to the past and present, Beard’s photo collage style works are juxtaposed to great effect by historical photographs of, and writings from, the enterprisers, explorers, missionaries, and big-game hunters whose quest for adventure and “progress” were to change the face of a continent and leave an irreversible legacy.
These images produce a multilayered and intensely personal account, exhibiting the environmental crises of overpopulation and starvation of tens of thousands of elephants, rhinos, and hippos that Beard experienced in the 1960s and ’70s.
As blood continues to be spilt, with many species populations on the brink of extinction, Beard’s unique aesthetic holds a chilling reminder of why we need to take action to probe the violations Western encroachment has caused.
Peter Beard’s The End of the Game is on sale now from Taschen, priced at £69.99. Buy it here.