Before, he was Martha Vineyard’s beloved Vineyard Gazette photographer, Peter Simon’s first published shots were featured in The Riverdale Press.
When he wasn’t playing stoopball with a teenaged Richard Stein, he drove around Riverdale in his father’s Cadillac snapping photos for then Press editor David Stein. Throughout his life, he filled the Gazette and his own collection with photos of progressive movements, reggae bands, and awe-inspiring photos of nature.
But on Nov. 18, artist and photojournalist Peter Simon lost his battle to lung cancer, passing away at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. He was 71.
Growing up in Fieldston, Simon came from a reputable family that inspired he and his siblings to make their own marks on the world. His father, Richard Simon, was a co-founder of publishing powerhouse Simon & Schuster. He learned to love photography from his father, an amateur photographer, who died when he was just a teenager. When he passed, the elder Simon left his camera to his only son.
That camera was used to shoot all over this part of the Bronx. While his sisters would focus on music, Peter would focus on photography, with a lot of his work finding its way to the pages of The Press in the mid-1960s.
Still, his family would summer in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. But by the end of the 1960s, Peter was living there permanently. The lifelong New York Mets fan learned to cope with Red Sox Country, and used his camera to find beauty and inspiration on the Vineyard.
He contributed photos to the Gazette since 1969, and also appeared in a number of other publications, especially in the world of music. Some of his work includes superstars of the century from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin. He got practice shooting images of his sisters, including Carly Simon, who herself would become an internationally renowned pop rock and folk singer.
Peter published a few books of his photography work, most notably, “The New York Mets: 25 Years of Baseball Magic.” Not only was Simon a great shot, but he also was proficient in the darkroom as well.
“He gave you a sense of the personality of his subject, and I think that’s what made him such a good rock-and-roll photographer too,” said Richard Stein, a former publisher of The Press who inherited the paper along with brother Bernard Stein from their parents.
Growing up in the 1960s fostered a progressive resolve in Simon that never left. When the Occupy Wall Street movement erupted in 2011 on the streets of New York, Simon was there to snap photos. He had an appreciation for the causes of others and made an effort to capture those moments.
“He wasn’t going to join the corporate culture,” Stein said. And in a way, Simon never did. He would sometimes show up to the Gazette unannounced or barefoot if it was warm enough, editor Julie Wells said.
“He was devoted to the Gazette, and he loved getting his picture on the front page,” she said. “Lucy Vincent Beach, I liked to say, was his office.”
His work also turned up in The New York Times, Rolling Stone and Time.
“He was a really gentle spirit, and I can never think of him saying an unkind word about anyone,” Wells said. “He had a childlike quality in that way. He really believed in the best in people, and I think liked to believe there was good in the world.”
Sometimes Simon would call on deadline about the photos he believed would make good front-page art. Oftentimes, Wells accepted the nudges because they were first-class photos.
“The way I remember him,” Stein said. “He was very soft-spoken and self-effacing, and extremely talented.”
Peter Simon is survived by his wife Ronni Simon and son Willie Simon. He also is survived by all three of his sisters: Lucy — who would go on to write Broadway scores; Joanna — a mezzo-soprano opera singer; and Carly.
His father died in 1960, but his mother — Andrea Heinemann Simon — died in 1994 after spending decades as a local community leader, including 30 years on the board of directors of the Riverdale Mental Health Association, now known as Mosaic Mental Health.