Peter Simon, the iconic photographer and brother to singer-songwriter Carly Simon, passed away Sunday at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. A close family friend confirmed that the 71-year-old died of cardiac arrest and was suffering from lung cancer.
Simon lived on the pristine New England island, where he worked as a freelance photographer. He was renowned for taking human interest pictures of both famous and unknown residents and visitors of Martha’s Vineyard.
At the time of his death, Simon was working as a freelancer for The Martha’s Vineyard Times. Founded in 1984, the paper boasts a weekly circulation of 15,000 copies and call themselves “the Island’s most widely read newspaper for year-round Islanders, long-term summer residents and Vineyard visitors.”
Simon also worked for the island’s other newspaper, the Vineyard Gazette. Former Times editor Doug Cabral, who was responsible for hiring Simon at both publications, remembered his colleague and “good friend:”
This is sad news. Peter was an early and continuing contributor of news and feature photography to The MV Times in the mid-1980s when I began there, as he had been when I was at the Vineyard Gazette in the ’70s. He had a distinctive point of view, a relentless way of capturing the moment, and his images were always high-quality and very often remarkable. Most important, he was a good friend.
The multi-talented photographer relaunched his popular Vineyard Scenes feature last spring, and his annual calendar showcasing local scenic landscapes has remained a hot-selling item with both natives and visitors of the upscale retreat. He and his wife, Ronni, owned the local gallery Vineyard Haven, where Simon completed a book-signing as recently as September.
Simon’s life’s work was encapsulated in a collection published in 2013 called “Through the Lens.” Fellow Times reporter Tony Omer described the collection after Simon treated him to a “personally narrated slideshow:”
“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 counterculture, 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.”
Simon made national headlines in August while he was photographing his Vineyard Scenes feature at Lola’s in Oak Bluffs. Mistaking Simon for an aggressive paparazzi, actor Bill Murray allegedly poured water over his head at the bar, even though the freelancer was invited to snap photos of the band’s performance.
According to the police report, Simon asked Murray, “Do you know who I am?” at one point during the altercation. The Times suggested that he wasn’t putting on airs with the proclamation, but was instead identifying himself as a well-known local photographer at the event.
Slideshow through time
“No one loved their work more than Peter!” said close friend Mirabai Bush. “All of our lives are made richer by his documentation, from civil rights actions to great moments in rock and roll to the spiritual awakening of the ’70s to the Women’s March of 2016. His Vineyard Calendar, hanging in kitchens around the world, kept our favorite Vineyard places alive all winter until we could finally return. And he was a faithful and loving friend. He will live in all our hearts now.”
Jack Shea, another writer for The Times who was close to Simon, called the photographer a “devoted child of the ’60s” and “a madcap artist kind of guy with a zesty spirit and a talent for true friendship.” Shea explained how “Simon would repeatedly and voluntarily reach out to help and advise people in and out of his close circle of family and friends.”
Besides his sister Carly, Peter is survived by his wife, Ronni, the couple’s son, Willie, and his other sister, Joanna.