Peter R. Simon, a photographer who spent time living on a hippie commune, chose to focus on commercial photography in order to support a family with his wife, Ronni (pictured).
“I thought it was going to last. I thought that we had changed the world forever and that people were going to suddenly start trusting each other and that we were all going to be one,” Peter R. Simon said of his experience of the ’60s and ’70s. “And I think why I got so depressed at 9/11 was because it all went up in smoke and ashes.”
Simon, a photographer, has spent time living on a hippie commune and documented concerts by musicians including Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. The Occupy movement has somewhat renewed his hope for this generation, he said in an interview at Boston’s Yes.Oui.Si. art exhibition space. “Feeling like there was a real trust and a bond amongst total strangers—that feeling did come back a little bit with Occupy. Not as much, but I did get that feeling again,” Simon said. Photographs of the Occupy movement—the subject of Simon’s most recent work—and of ’60s protests and free love share the Yes.Oui.Si. gallery with sculptures and jewelry created by Simon’s wife, Ronni S. Simon. The joint exhibit runs until April 28.
Occupy’s tent cities are a far cry from Martha’s Vineyard, where Peter and Ronni live and run their gallery, the Simon Gallery. “Our lives have never taken a linear path. I’ve never had a nine-to-five job, and Peter hasn’t either,” Ronni said in an interview at Yes.Oui.Si. A former potter who sold her creations on the streets of Greenwich Village, Ronni decided to apply the crocheting skills that she learned as a young child from her mother to another art form: jewelry. “Because I’m self-taught, I crochet my jewelry,” she said, herself wearing some of her own pearl and silver wir pieces.
The gallery also features her sculptures, more recent artistic endeavors. While with jewelry she has to consider how a piece will fit on a buyer’s wrist or how an earring will dangle, Ronni explained that with her sculpture she has freedom to create art unbounded by logistical constraints. “It is liberating as an artist to just deal with form and not function,” she said.
Peter was a curious seven-year-old when his father first taught him how to develop and print film. “When he died, it was very clear that I was the one to carry on the legacy of his darkroom equipment and cameras,” Peter said. A photojournalism major at Boston University in the ’60s, Peter was drawn toward hippie culture and then rock and roll. He began working with publications such as the Atlantic Monthly and Rolling Stone. The gallery includes many photos from those years: the Grateful Dead jamming at San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium; Bob Dylan onstage at a piano in front of masses of long-haired, attentive believers; and Led Zeppelin on a hotel balcony along Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Peter said became more interested in reggae in the mid-1970s, and on one wall of the gallery hangs a 1976 photograph of Bob Marley leaning against a car with a joint in his hand.
However, once Peter and Ronni had a child, Peter had to focus on more practical and commercial photography in order to support a family, he said. Though he laid aside his alternative lifestyle photography to settle down in Martha’s Vineyard, he recently got swept up in the Occupy movement. “The only thing that has turned me on in terms of photo documentation the way it did in the ’60s and ’70s has been the Occupy movement,” he said.
One wall of the gallery is devoted to black-and-white photos of hippie communes, a bright picture of a 1968 tent city, and a 1968 photograph of men and women marching through water with hands raised in peace signs. On another wall hang photographs of a different tent city and a man holding up his fingers in a peace sign, but these photographs are in color and are labeled “NYC 2011.” In his captions, Peter references the parallel he sees between the Occupy movement and his experience of the anti-war movement and ’60s culture: a photograph of a man holding “Mean People Suck” stickers is entitled “One Love,” and another reads “Give Peace Another Chance.”
Yes.Oui.Si., founded in February of 2011 as a “multi-sensory exhibition space” for young artists, features visual arts as well as music performances. However, founding partner and Director Miguel S. de Braganza sees the Simons’ work as an unusual addition to the gallery. “We show emerging artists from the area,” de Braganza said. “This show is a different direction for us.”
In such a setting, Peter’s statement about the present generation caring about the future rings true. “There’s been apathy for 30 years or so, but now [social consciousness] is coming back with Occupy,” he said. “I think things are going to change.”