Peter Simon’s coffee table book turns through the ‘Seasons’ of Martha’s Vineyard

Chilmark. — Photo by Peter Simon

Turns out that Peter Simon is a historian. The longtime Chilmark resident and acclaimed photojournalist is working on funding a photographic history of the Island that he believes will be the new gold standard for the genre.

Titled “Seasons,” the coffee table book, nearly 200 pages and 11 inches by 14 inches, will be chockful of Mr. Simon’s pics over the past 50 years. It’s arranged by season, beginning with spring because “no one wants to look at winter first,” Mr. Simon said during an interview at the Simon Gallery, the studio he shares with his wife, jewelry designer Ronni Simon. Many of the photos in “Seasons“ have never been published. Others have appeared in his annual Island calendar, which he has produced for the past 28 years.

Mr. Simon is raising money for the $80,000 project, and has attracted more than 100 donors, including Lenny and Linda Ball, James Ferraro, David and Betsy Epstein, Ernie Boch Jr., the Cronson family, Erik Gordon, Dick Ebersol and Susan Saint James, Dirk Ziff, Flatbread Pizza, and the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank. If the fundraising wind is right, “Seasons” will be introduced on July 4, 2016.

“I have tremendous gratitude for the people who believed in me and in this project,” Mr. Simon said. “Our goal is $80,000, the cost to produce the first printing of 1,000 first-edition books and 150 boxed sets. We are around $60,000 currently.”

To be honest, Mr. Simon does not look like a historian. For many of us, he is most often observed as a barefoot elfin figure crouching with his camera in front of audiences or onstage at events and performances.

He is not a historian in the David McCullough vein, but because he’s been photographing this place nonstop for 50 years, the images have become a historical record. No one else has done that, so for him, the project represents a complete pictorial history, a record that doesn’t exist today.

“Alfred Eisenstaedt did something like it in the 1960s. I remember looking at it and thinking, ‘I hope I can do something like that someday,’” Mr. Simon said. “There are many, many books about the Vineyard, brilliant work like Alison Shaw’s photography, but nothing encompassing, in one volume. I intend that ‘Seasons’ will be definitive,” he said.

“So I’ve been aware of the need for a while. There are lots of smaller books and guides, but even my own books are slices. There has been some great work. Alison [Shaw] did ‘Vineyard Summer,’ and Linsey Lee has ‘Vineyard Voices,’ which have great focus. I want an encompassing book. A book you have to have,” he said. Pulitzer prizewinner Geraldine Brooks, and Julia Wells, longtime editor of the Vineyard Gazette, have agreed to write introductory and contextual pieces.

“We will include photos of all of the Island’s people, year-rounders, summer people, and Islanders, going back to the 1960s. People like Stan Hart, Ray Ellis, and Henry Beetle Hough.”

“Another element is the annual events which are an important part of Island life: the Ag Fair, street fairs, the Possible Dreams auction, the Derby. They will be presented in multiple-image groupings,” Mr. Simon said.

Mr. Simon knows how this Island works from a community involvement and service aspect. “Martha’s Vineyard Community Services represents the best example of broad-based services available to us. Their work has touched virtually every family on the Island,” he said. In that vein, 20 percent of proceeds off the top from the first printing will go to the organization, a sum estimated at $50,000 based on a sales price of $75 for the volume and $150 for an autographed box set.

Community Services will receive 25 percent of a second printing, and a higher amount based on further printing. “I can’t say enough for the help Paul Falvey and the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank has provided in organizing and administering the proceeds,” Mr. Simon said.

Mr. Simon is very aware of time these days. He is undergoing treatment for early-stage lung cancer, the most treatable form, and yet, “I’m now aware that you just never know, so I want to get this done,” he said.

This phase of the fundraising is quasi-presidential: “I’m doing it like Obama did: $5 here, $10 there. Whatever people can afford,” he said. Mr. Simon is aware that he is perceived as financially secure, given that his father co-founded Simon & Schuster publishing house.

“I’m not rich,” he said. “There wasn’t much left after Dad died. I can’t afford to do this myself.”

He’s betting the Island will see the value of the project and pitch in to create a pictorial record of the past 50 years.

To contribute, readers may go to and select “Seasons” from the events, or go to and select the CrowdRise link.