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‘Peter Was a True Adventurer’: A Close Friend Remembers Legendary Photographer Peter Beard

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Peter Beard
JEROME DELAY/AP/SHUTTERSTOCK

Vincent Fremont is the former executive manager of Andy Warhol’s studio.

After almost 50 years of friendship with Peter, there are so many memories of him that I will never forget. Our friendship started in the summer of 1972, when we were in Montauk, on Long Island in New York. This was the first summer Andy Warhol, Fred Hughes, Jed Johnson, Bob Colacello, and I stayed at Andy and Paul Morrissey’s compound, Eothen, positioned quite close to the ocean. Andy and Paul had rented the main house of the compound to Lee Radziwill that summer, and Peter was having a discreet romance with her. This was a magical summer, and Peter had a lot to do with it.

Anyone who met Peter, so handsome and charming, immediately realized how charismatic he was—full of creative energy, generous with his thoughts and conversation. He lived his life spontaneously, seemingly free of fears and worries. During a lazy afternoon that summer at a cocktail gathering with Andy, Fred, Jed, hosted by Lee at the main house, I videotaped Peter and Truman Capote talking about the Rolling Stones tour of that year. Peter was laughing, drink in hand, about the code names they both had for the tour. He was the official photographer, and Truman was working alongside him to write about the band. But that summer, Truman dropped out because he thought it was all too boring. Meanwhile, Peter—never one to turn down a potential adventure—became close friends with Mick Jagger.

Andy loved Peter, as we all did, with his infectious enthusiasm. He was able to get you to do things you might not ordinarily do, like stand on a “diving board” (more like a wooden plank on the edge of a cliff) on his property in Montauk, with the ocean waves breaking on the large boulders below.

In the winter of the 1975 I ended up landing in Nairobi, Kenya, where Peter and his then-girlfriend Barbara Allen picked me up. I had brought video equipment and battery packs with me because I was there to scout film locations for Andy and to conduct other business. Peter casually told me to walk out of the then-small Nairobi airport, and he and Barbara would pick me up after getting all my gear. It was late afternoon as I walked in the direction Peter had pointed out to me. I noticed dusk was approaching and it was getting dark, and I had no idea where I was or how long I was supposed to walk. Sounds of local tribesman could be heard, and I remember the smell of smoke from their fires. I reached a dirt road thinking, “What the hell am I going to do?” Suddenly, I saw car headlights’ approaching. Thankfully, it was Peter and Barbara.

This was the beginning of an adventure that I will never forget, thanks to Peter. I stayed at his Hog Ranch property outside of Nairobi at the base of the Ngong Hills that was located next to farmland belonging to Karin Blixen, aka Isek Dinesen. Suddenly, I was in the world she wrote about in Out of Africa, a book Peter gave me to read before my trip to Africa. We flew all over Kenya and to Tanzania in a four-seat prop plane.

Much has been written about all the beautiful women Peter was with and whom he photographed and his all-nighters, but that was only one small part of who he was. He was a serious environmentalist who started to alert people to the seriousness of the destruction we humans are doing to our planet as early as the mid-1960s. Peter took wonderful, powerful photographs of Africa and the animals inhabiting the land to let people know what was being lost. He was an important and colorful participant in the culture of New York, from the late 1960s throughout the rest of his life, but he never gave up the cause to save our earth. Peter was a true artist creating images using photography as his main medium and adding collage, ink, and blood to his finished artworks. His intricate and beautiful diaries are also important part of his artistic legacy.

More than anything else, Peter was a true adventurer, and he did put your life in jeopardy from time to time, which you usually only realized after you were committed to the activity he got you involved in. One time in Africa, he got me to jump into a river for a swim before dinner. I only realized I’d gotten myself into trouble when people from the camp came running down the hill with lanterns and flashlights, yelling “Crocodiles! Crocodiles!” I started swimming as fast as I could to get out of the river. All the while, there was Peter, relaxing in the river, smiling, holding on to a wood platform and taking his time to get out.

By Vincent Fremont
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