Martha’s Vineyard’s Peter Simon, as seen through his lens

Peter Simon

Photographer Peter Simon of Chilmark has completed an intriguing, raw, honest, and entertaining DVD retrospective of his career and his life entitled “Through the Lens.” Watching it is like being invited over to Mr. Simon’s for a personally narrated slideshow of his work and his life.

It is a no-holds-barred life story told through photographs and personal narrative. The two DVD set, which runs three hours, includes hundreds of photos that document an important time in American history, an interesting career, and the singular life of Mr. Simon.

Slideshows may not be everyone’s cup of tea and three hours may be too much for anyone at one sitting, but the DVD is divided into 12 chapters and the wonders of modern technology allow them to be played whenever.

The DVD has the characteristics of a diary. Diaries are often kept under lock and key, under the bed, tucked away under the clothes in the second drawer down, seldom left out in plain sight where unauthorized eyes might discover the secrets they hold. This is not Mr. Simon’s style. He has led most of his life in a straight-forward, open manner with his heart on his sleeve.

His diary is made up of pictures and he has never tried to keep it hidden. In this DVD, celebrating his 50 years as a photographer, the 66-year-old adds an intriguing vocal commentary that charts his journey from his upper middle class childhood through his college years, the anti-Vietnam war movement, the counter culture, rock and roll, his work as an urban news photographer, a frank discussion of his own addiction, the Vineyard, and his camera-view of the country he loves, the U.S.

Mr. Simon grew up as the son of prominent New York publisher and amateur photographer Richard Simon, co-founder of Simon & Schuster, and politically aware, socially active mother, Andrea, both of whom he clearly admires. He is the youngest of four children, brother to three precocious and as he points out, beautiful, sisters including the singer-songwriter Carly.

He documents a life lived as one of the post-World War II baby boomers. Mr. Simon’s photographs cover much of the political and cultural changes of the 1960s and 70s in the U.S. As a college student-journalist at Boston University he created iconic images of anti-war demonstrations and politicians. A journey to San Francisco in 1968 cemented his belief in the importance of the evolving cultural tidal change that was led by the hippies. His portfolio of urban life while working for the Cambridge Phoenix, later the Boston Phoenix, is an arresting portrait of Boston in the late 60s and early 70s.

He presents pictures of and talks about his commune life in Vermont, nude living, and an ongoing spiritual journey that is not without a bit of skepticism. The self-realization process evidently led Mr. Simon to the conclusion that he needed to earn a living and that his photographs of musicians sold better than any of his other photographs.

He is a music junkie. As a teenager he took a photo of The Beatles at Shea Stadium. His ability to develop the trust of musicians and his uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time has led to an impressive collection of photos of seminal rock and roll groups and musicians such as Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and Jim Morrison, among others, and some interesting tales.

Mr. Simon is not afraid to talk about the less desirable sides of his life. Whether it is about missing his father who died when he was fairly young, the downsides of communal living, or the personal effects of addiction. In the chapter “High and Dry,” Mr. Simon recounts his passage through the depths of alcoholism, driven by a despair sparked, he said, by the events of 9/11 and by the almost simultaneous publication of his book “I and Eye, pictures of My Generation.” The book was the starting point for the DVD. He went on a three-year alcoholic binge.

After numerous traffic citations, time in jail, the loss of friends, and thoughts of ending it all, a judge gave him the option of a year in jail or a rehabilitation program. He successfully finished the program and says that he has developed an empathy with all sufferers of addiction. He presents pictures inspired by that period in his life.

The DVD is as interesting as it is long. “I really wanted to include as much as I could without making it too boring for the viewer,” Mr. Simon said. “I decided to include as much as I could. The viewers can skip through the parts they don’t find interesting.”

The last chapters cover his reggae infatuation, scenes of the Occupy movement, and photos taken while traveling the country. “On the Vineyard” is a chapter on his beloved home. There are bonus features including tips for photographers.

Like most home slideshows, the DVD is not over produced. Both the picture and sound quality varies from chapter to chapter but the substance of the show overshadows the weaknesses. “Through the Lens” was produced on a shoestring budget. Some of the funding came from the social funding website Kickstarter.

The last chapter of “Through the Lens” entitled “On the Vineyard” can be viewed on MVTV on demand.

“Through the Lens” is available at the Simon Gallery in Vineyard Haven where his wife Ronni’s jewelry and art and many of his photographs and books are on display, and at other locations to be announced.

DVD Release Reception, 3–6 pm, Saturday, Nov. 30, Simon Gallery, Vineyard Haven. Refreshments. 508-693-1701;