Whitfield Lovell - Embers, artist talk, 5 p.m., SFA Concert Hall, and opening reception, 6 p.m., BU Art Gallery, Friday, Sept. 14.

Vol. V No. 5   ·   14 September 2001 


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The times they were amazin'

  An American Street scene: Philadelphia.

With the rest of their generation, Peter Simon and his BU classmates listened to the Stones and the Beatles, demonstrated against the Vietnam War, and traveled en masse to Washington to levitate the Pentagon. They held love-ins and smoke-ins at the Public Garden, burned draft cards at the Arlington Street Church, and reveled in the antiestablishment BU News. After graduation, Simon (COM'70) and friends founded Tree Frog Farm, inspired by neighboring Vermont back-to-the-land communes, but with some differences, among them indoor plumbing and color television. For two years, until the realities of farming and communal living took over, he lived joyously free of conventional obligations, with breaks in New York City to fulfill freelance photography assignments for album covers and magazines, visit his bemused and loving mother, pitch a book idea, and cheer for the Mets.


Ram Dass, chanting with his followers after his ultimate "speech" at a Rowe, Mass., spiritual retreat, May 1975.


He was born to that openly double life. Son of Simon and Schuster cofounder Richard Simon and younger brother to exuberantly creative Joanna, Lucy, and Carly, his affluent childhood included famous family friends, spontaneous singalongs day and night, and early darkroom lessons from his father, a leader in the growth of amateur photography (today photographers search out-of-the-way antique stores for copies of his 1937 Miniature Photography, from One Amateur to Another).

All that -- combined with immense talent -- was the basis of a precocious career. Simon's first work for Popular Photography was publicized by an appearance on television's To Tell the Truth: he was the real 14-year-old professional photographer. By the time he was at BU, press credentials were giving him access to the musical obsessions of his generation: Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger, Cat Stevens, the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane.

  Bob Marley sings to his imperial majesty, Haile Selassie, 1976.

Simon's most recent book, I and Eye: Pictures of My Generation (Bulfinch, 2001), chronicles it all in text and photographs: his childhood, years at BU and on the farm and concurrent scenes in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., his search for spiritual enlightenment leading to Ram Dass (who while still Richard Alpert had been fired from Harvard along with Timothy Leary for sharing LSD with students), big league baseball, Martha's Vineyard. The book depicts the life of his generation, the mainstream as well as the counterculture.


BU students prepare to strike in protest of the Kent State shootings, 1970.


Although Simon didn't make it to Woodstock, 30 years later his 13-year-old son persuaded him they should attend Woodstock '99. There he photographed "middle-aged post-hippie holdouts," mostly "burned out and slightly degenerate," and their successors, mimicking late-'60s dress or lack of it, affluent "rebels without much of a cause, out only for a good time." The chaos, the nudity, the mountains of trash, the music seemed at best meaningless, and according to Simon, "yucky." Back home, he mused on how the times had changed. Still, he concluded, "I sincerely feel my generation is leaving our world in a better place."

At a 1969 draft resistance demonstration on the Boston Common, a peacenik finds another use for his sign after being confronted by the notorious self-proclaimed "Polish Freedom Fighter" Jozef Mlot-Mroz.

Peter Simon -- Photographs, 1963-1973 is on display September 21 through October 14 at the George Sherman Union Gallery. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, call 358-0295. The photographs on this page are taken from I and Eye: Pictures of My Generation, by Peter Simon (Bulfinch, 2001).


14 September 2001
Boston University
Office of University Relations