A portrait of photographer David Gulden, a true nature lover and worthy successor to Peter Beard.
—Deep in the heart of the Nairobi suburb of Karen, named after the writer Karen Blixen, whose farm, famously celebrated in her novel, Out of Africa, was built on the same fertile land, at the end of a lush, steaming trail set between thick flowering bushes filled with the shrill call of birds and insects, a converted garage offers studio space and an oasis of calm and concentration to the American photographer David Gulden. His first collection of extraordinary black–and–white studies of Kenyan wildlife, The Centre Cannot Hold, was published last year to great acclaim.
Gulden first travelled to Kenya from New York with h is father when he was fifteen. He d id not take a camera with him on that first trip, but the experience nonetheless changed the course of his life forever. Wrapped now in a traditional Swahili kikoi, dark hair dishevelled, skin weather beaten, his eyes flicker in the half light of his studio as he remembers. “The most powerful moment of the trip was getting up from dinner in a safari tent, walking a short distance to the edge of a clearing and watching a pride of lions amble past in the torch light. It was the most incredible experience of my life.” Gulden’s father was a friend of the celebrated photographer, artist and adventurer Peter Beard, one of whose unmistakable blood–smeared photographic collages covers a wall of the Karen studio. He had introduced his son to Beard just before a second trip to Kenya three years later. “We had driven out to Montauk on the eastern tip of Long Island, in the dead of winter, to have lunch with a man who turned out to be the most interesting man I had ever met.” Gulden travelled then to Kenya to stay at Beard’s makeshift home, a tented encampment called Hog Ranch, which adjoined the Blixen farm, not far from his present studio in Karen. There he showed up “unannounced and d idn’t leave for eight years. I was an appalling house guest! It was a rustic, decadent, liberating place. Giraffe showed up every night at sunset and we fed them by hand.”
His own interest in photography developed slowly and, as he explains, he only took it up in earnest after several more trips to Africa. “It started with snapshots; slowly, slowly it became something more. It took a lot more time to learn about animals and how to approach them and then how to take a photo.”