Updated, Thursday, May 25, 11:14 am*
This one is different.
Island photographer Peter Simon has authored 11 coffee table books over the 52 years he’s spent chronicling this Island. Most have specific themes: nature, an autobiography, a photo and text biography of his rock-icon sister Carly Simon, and image collections featuring ’60s and ’70s rock stars. He is credited with implanting reggae music in the Island and national consciousness with several books on the genre.
This one is different, because while all those elements are represented in his new opus, “Martha’s Vineyard: To Everything There is a Season,” there is also an element of summing up and a statement about the people and the parts of life here that are important to him and to the fabric of Island community life.
Now, that approach makes sense when you’ve reached the proverbial three score and ten years of life. And when you’ve survived a cancer scare, as he has, it may add a sense of urgency. What he’s got here is a book for insiders and outsiders.
Mr. Simon and his artisan wife Ronni will host a coming-out party for the book on Sunday, May 28, between 5 pm and 8 pm at the Simon Gallery, 54 Main Street, in Vineyard Haven, along with book signings by contributors to the book, including Geraldine Brooks, Stephen Davis, Jan Hatchard, and Alison Shaw.
If you are a frequent visitor here, you’ll see a compilation of the sites and scenes that draw people here. If you’re an Islander or long-term resident, you will grin at scenes, maybe of yourself, gamboling on Lucy Vincent Beach, fishing the Derby, or corndogging at the Ag Fair over the past 50 years.
Reading it brings to mind Matt Taylor’s wonderful 2012 book, “Jaws: Memories of Martha’s Vineyard.” Mr. Taylor painstakingly researched the making of the 1974 movie, scrambling through attics and basements to unearth pictures of now august Islanders who were hippie-lookin’ folks back in the day when “Jaws” was filmed. Books like these reveal the warp and weave of community fabric.
Mr. Simon is an unfiltered guy. If you want to know what he thinks, feels, and believes, ask him. He’ll tell you. The Times spoke with him this week about “Martha’s Vineyard: To Everything There Is a Season.”
“This is a book for insiders and outsiders. That’s true. I didn’t want to do a touristy book, there are plenty of those. I wanted to make a gutsy book about what it’s like to live here year-round, to show what people do with themselves here,” he said.
The book is arranged by calendar season, with introductions to each from Pulitzer prizewinning Ms. Brooks, with 750 images of the Island, including a photo of Mr. Simon on the back cover taken by Ms. Shaw.
But within each season are subsets, which Mr. Simon calls “panoplies,” centered on events, organizations, and people who have become important in the author’s life. “Obviously there are images of the Island that people want to see, but I also wanted to make a deep, real, and reflective book of life here, and to include a lot of annual events that have resonated with me over the years,” he said.
So you’ll see images of the Chilmark Sunday-morning softball league, the longest-running and most irreverent of its kind, and of the Derby, shots of Martha’s Vineyard Community Service folks working and fundraising, the annual water tasting for Vineyard House, a lifesaving residence for those battling to recover from substance abuse.
There are shots of good times at the Ag Fair, the Chili Fest, Illumination Night, and road races, including the people who make them happen and those of us who enjoy them.
As Mr. Simon explains, the book itself is a community project. “We raised all the money through crowdsourcing and personal and institutional donations that are acknowledged in the book. They didn’t do it for return on investment. They wanted to see it done, and we went all-in, didn’t cut any corners. I think it’s my best book for that reason as well,” Mr. Simon said. “If this is my last book, I want to go out with a bang.”
One reason this book is a success is a connection Mr. Simon found with his father, Richard Simon, co-founder of the Simon and Schuster publishing house. “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my relationship with my dad. He was sick for several years before he died when I was 12. I never had a clear idea of his feelings for me,” he said.
But when Mr. Simon was researching this book, poring through thousands of his father’s documents catalogued at Columbia University, he came across a handwritten note his father had sent to Phil Rizzuto, a New York Yankees baseball player, on the occasion of the birth of Mr. Rizzuto’s son. Peter Simon includes the note in its entirety on the page dedicating “Martha’s Vineyard: To Everything There Is a Season” to his dad, Richard Simon.
The note references Mr. Simon’s relationship with his own son, Peter. It reads, in part, “Clearly he is the best friend I have ever had. I wish you the same relationship with yours. There is nothing nicer in the whole wide world”
*Includes revised number of photographs in the book; additional information on back cover photograph.