Famous photojournalist displays raw talent

Meredith Shepherd

Equinox Staff


Picture perfect is what Peter Simon brought to the Keene State College Mountain View Room on March 30.  Simon is a well-known photographer and brother of famed musician Carly Simon, but more importantly he is a man who takes life as a journey and brings his camera along with him.

Simon started his photojournalism and photography career in 1959 at age 15 using a Polaroid camera.  He attended Riverdale High School in a suburb outside of New York City.  In high school, he said photography was the one thing that allowed him to fit in with his peers.

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“People made fun of me left and right until I started bringing my camera in,” Simon said.  “The camera is what brought me to school.”

Simon said he would snap photos of his peers and then go home that night to develop them.  The next day he would return to school with his finished accomplishment, and he said everyone would gasp.

In 1965 Simon said he went to college in Boston and became a part of the “hippie scene” quite quickly.

“I smoked weed for the first time in 1966,” Simon said.  “Sex, drugs, and rock and roll; the movement became visual.”

Simon looked up to The Beatles as idols and had a “crush” on Joni Mitchell. Soon, to his liking, he would be photographing both.

Simon became a photojournalist for the Boston Globe and that is where his career started to take off. He said some of his friends wanted to move to the country because that was what the “hip” thing to do.  So he quit the publication and headed for the country.

“Cities were becoming depressing,” Simon said.

He showed the audience a black and white photograph of a young girl in a torn dress outside of a broken down home. Simon said he packed up and started a commune in Gilford, Vt.

“A field of daisies is what Vermont seemed to me,” Simon said. “I loved to walk around without my clothes on.”

Simon has a petite frame and stands at 5’5” with round-rimmed glasses.  He wore a red and black beanie and an oversized red sweater as he clenched the microphone and took the audience through a series of his photographs that represented his life and experiences.

Simon began his slideshow with his first photograph, an eerie black and white of a man wearing a top hat standing on an empty city street.  He then went through photographs of his commune, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, his sister Carly, Mick Jagger, and many more publicly known figures and private individuals.

Simon isn’t a photographer with one mind-set; his photographs range from protest demonstrations to people, and to the typical landscape sunsets, which he said he always tries to make look unique.

“Laid-back hippie-esque way. I just like to photograph people as they are,” Simon said about his photography.

Even with Simon’s way of life as simple and comfortable, he said he suffered from smoking marijuana and drinking.  Drinking put him in jail.

“I picked up alcohol as I left weed,” he said.  “By 2004 I had three DUIs.”

Simon said he wanted to shape up his life and he said he has been sober since 2005.

“Smoking weed was a precursor to being an alcoholic,” he said.

Simon now resides on Martha’s Vineyard, where a lot of profession takes place and he said teaches there as well.  Despite his previous downfall, Simon has published two books and is working on his third, titled “Simon and Simon,” which focuses on him and his father. Simon said his father is his muse for his photography.  His father, Paul, was also a photographer, and published the first coffee table book and first crossword puzzle book.

“I wanted to pick up where my father left off with photography,” Simon said.

In 2006 Simon said he officially took on digital photography. However, making the move from film to digital was difficult for him.

“Switching from film to digital didn’t make me happy; I really love film,” he said.

He said anyone can take a good picture now and no modern photographer stands out to him. Simon was invited to KSC by professor, Betsy Dubois.  Dubois said she met Simon last summer and she invited Simon to KSC because she thought it would be a good experience for not just students to hear him speak but everyone.

“I asked if he did college circuits and he said yes,” she said.  “I teach a course on activism and I wanted people to see him.”

Senior Matt Peterson said Dubois asked him to attend and he said he was glad he did.

“He has a very nice life story and a strong passion with what he does and he is good at it,” Peterson said.

Simon ended his presentation by sitting behind a table where his book, “I and Eye” was being sold.  He was signing autographs.

“If I am bored with photography, I’m usually sad or depressed,” he said.


Meredith Shepherd can be contacted at mshepherd@keeneequinox.com

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