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Martha’s Vineyard: To Everything There Is a Season

Peter Simon

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jun 13, 2017
Category: Art and Photography

I met Peter Simon in 1969 at the radical/hippie farm in Vermont that Ray Mungo chronicled in Famous Long Ago: My Life and Hard Times With Liberation News Service. I was a refugee from graduate school, no direction home, driving a rusty VW bus. Peter was the son of the co-founder of Simon & Schuster. He had a nice camera. His car had heat.

The arc of a life. All these years later, on the back nine, I see that we’ve had parallel lives. We both chronicled the struggle of our generation to liberate ourselves and our country, we’ve both done deep dives into Jamaican music, and we both have looked for a home that was more than a retreat.

Peter had some good fortune in the blood. His father’s hobby was photography; when Richard Simon died, Peter inherited his 1937 Leica and his darkroom. One of his sisters is Carly Simon; he’d get the nod for album covers and candid shots not available to other photographers. And, most of all, his family summered on Martha’s Vineyard. So when wanderlust faded, he headed to the Vineyard. And stayed.

Half a century later, he’s published some books, most notably I and Eye: Pictures of My Generation. He does an annual calendar that’s a favorite for those who must endure seasons off-island. He and his wife have a photo gallery in Vineyard Haven.

Mostly, though, he takes pictures.

Many pictures.

“Martha’s Vineyard: To Everything There Is a Season” fills 276 pages of a book that’s 11 X 14 inches. It has more than 700 photographs. It weighs more than 6 pounds. And it costs $150. [To order the book from Peter Simon Photography, click here].

The Vineyard’s year-round population is under 20,000. In summer, it soars to 100,000, and those refugees from the mainland occupy half of the island’s homes that are empty for nine months each year. So while there are islanders who will want this book, its real appeal is for those who regret all the time they must spend off-island — Vineyard loyalists who love the Vineyard so ardently they wouldn’t dream of setting foot on Nantucket.

The attraction of the Vineyard begins with nature. Unlike the Hamptons, there’s a lot of undeveloped land on the island and a healthy number of working farms. The beaches haven’t been “improved” as they have been elsewhere. The bluffs and cliffs are protected. This gives a photographer a lot to work with. As for houses, tradition rules, at least in this book. Shingle predominates.

But you want to see the people, don’t you? The young James Taylor and Carly Simon, of course, but also Walter Cronkite and Diane Sawyer and all the rest of the swells who zoom here in season. They’re here, and so are names you don’t know — Peter Simon has photographed some 500 weddings. He’s also photographed towels on a clothesline, nude beaches, softball games, dances, first days of school. And, of course, beautiful harbors and amazing sunsets.

The organization is seasonal. Naturally, I turned to summer. I thought: okay, it’s late, but I could go up for a week in July. I checked the listings for shacks. All but one was rented. It had no WiFi. “This owner doesn’t think it’s necessary,” the realtor explained. I didn’t bite. I’ll make do in New York quite nicely, I think, with Peter Simon’s book.