Images of America at Simon Gallery


Peter and Ronni Simon are holding their annual gallery party on July 5 with the added attraction of debuting 10 framed images from Mr. Simon’s “Off the Rock, On the Road” exhibit.

“It was Ronni’s idea to take the road trip,” Mr. Simon says. “At first I thought, I think we’re a little old for this… and a lot of people said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?'”

But gradually the idea gained appeal. Mr. Simon recalled his fascination with the urban alienation during the 1970s —”and it all came barreling back.”

The timing was right. In January the Vineyard becomes a slow pantomime, the Simons had a family wedding to attend in Texas, and Ms. Simon had scheduled a trunk show of her jewelry in Beverly Hills, California. So the couple drove off and for the following two months, traveled through places such as Boston, New York, Appalachia, Alabama, New Orleans, Oklahoma, Santa Monica, and Sneedville, Tennessee, and Jekyll, Arizona. Mr. Simon, using his Canon 50 D, captured images of street scenes and people, city signs, storefronts, farmland, shacks, diners, and majestic skylines.

“I was attracted more to American the ugly than America the beautiful,” he says. “It was the haves and the have-nots —made more apparent because of the economy.”

His most memorable stop: Bourbon Street. He explains, “It was people drinking until all hours, prostitution, all surrounded by history and architecture and everything achingly photogenic.”

Mr. Simon describes coming upon a murder on the street in the chaos just after it happened, and being physically accosted by the police for taking pictures. “I felt violated,” he recalls. “Police rule the streets.”

There were insights gained and lessons learned. “One thing I came away with is how technology is making people more cosmopolitan regardless of their surroundings,” Mr. Simon says. “We had a dinner in Alabama that could have been served in Cambridge.”

Mr. Simon admits the trip home was long, he was irritable (he’d had a health issue in California and wasn’t yet feeling completely well) — “and did a lot of apologizing to Ronni,” all of which made clear the most obvious lesson learned — and he says, “There’s no place like home.”

The gallery’s July 4 weekend event, which includes the release of “Chilmark Morning,” the newest in his “On the Vineyard” series, marks a significant point for the photographer.

“Most of the people who come into the gallery look for the celebrity presence or for scenic Vineyard views. But this is my attempt to get back to photojournalism,” he says. “It’s a different category that takes me back to my roots.”

Annual gallery party, July 5, 5 pm to 8 pm. The Simon Gallery, Main Street, Vineyard Haven. 508-693-1701.