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[Art reviews]

There and then
Peter Simon scores one for our ages

BY CLIF GARBODEN

I and Eye:Pictures of My Generation
By Peter Simon. Bulfinch Press, 224 pages, $45.
" Peter Simon: Photographs, 1963Ė1973 "
At the Sherman Gallery, Boston University, through October 14.

Whether Iím overqualified or unqualified to review Vineyard-based photographer Peter Simonís latest book is a question that redefines conundrum. Thereís a simple journalistic conflict: Peter and I are old comrades. We weathered some eventful years together as students at Boston University in the late í60s, taking pictures for the raving-mad radical BU News. I knew Peterís family, went to his wedding, etc. But full disclosure to our readers isnít the kind of conflict Iím worried about.

The real issue is whether Iím detached enough to critique an autobiography of somebody with whom I shared so many formative experiences. For those seemingly endless college years, Peter Simon and I lived in the real-deal heart of the í60s ó as spectators, through our cameras, and as participants, through our activism and daily lives. We were assaulted by the same political upheavals, buffeted by the same social influences, and inspired by the same mentors. So itís no surprise that for me, his book, I and Eye: Pictures of My Generation, rings true.

Simonís self-chronicle, illustrated with hundreds of his own photographs, is unabashedly personal, yet itís offered as representing a larger, cultural experience. And for me, it does. But what I canít easily divine is how much common ground gets covered for people who didnít come of age with the author. Fortunately for the integrity of this review, thatís a good question no matter who asks it. I and Eye outlines Simonís life from his boyhood as the youngest child of Simon & Schuster co-founder Richard Simon through college years of political activism, post-college disaffection with movement politics, immersion in communal living and new-age nudism, a spiritual quest, and ongoing passions for pop music, baseball, and media. The progression and undercurrents are indeed emblems of the í60s generation. But it could be argued that the cultural forces covered werenít equally relevant to everyone turning 50 this decade. And to press the point, how generationally typical was it to grow up in a house in Riverdale where Sloan Wilson and Jackie Robinson might stop in for dinner, or to have the likes of Joanna, Lucy, and Carly Simon for big sisters?

Obviously not at all, and Simon is the first to admit that he was a sheltered child of privilege. Statistics show that back in 1966, not everyone rejected his or her upbringing and took to the streets to rail against the Vietnam war. Later, more may have smoked pot and dug the Dead, yet fewer lived on communes or embraced Eastern gurus. But having wrestled with these objections from an uncomfortably close perspective, Iíve concluded that theyíre unfair. Revolution, drugs, pop culture, utopianism, and spiritualism are the í60s generationís unique journey, and one that, like the war itself, defined the times. Some of us never used our ticket; some of us got off early; Simon stayed on for the full trip. Thatís a strength, not a weakness, of his book.

Not that Iím suggesting it, but if you excised the " early-years " first chapter and, indeed, removed all the text and republished I and Eye as a photo essay, there would be no question that it stands as a " portrait of a generation. " That Simon elaborated his work with autobiography may be a little distracting to those who never met him, but the subtext of his writing is insightful, explicating common themes, as if this were a novel with himself as the main character. If Simonís story is about himself, his camera is always aimed at others.

THROUGH OCTOBER 14, Boston Universityís Sherman Gallery (775 Comm Ave, second floor) is hosting a selection of photographs that Peter Simon shot between 1963 and 1973, including the years he was at BU. Simon is a powerful photojournalist who establishes an intimacy with his subjects and decreases the distance between observer and observed to a hairís breadth. This collection brings viewers ó those who remember the í60s and those whose parents grew up in the í60s ó directly into the times with images of draft-card burnings, street protests, confrontations (Robert McNamara surrounded in Harvard Yard), urban decay, music legends (Jefferson Airplane in Marin, 1966; Richard and Mimi Farina, 1966; Jim Morrison in Boston, 1967); touchstone events (Jack Kerouacís funeral, 1969), and antic freaks. Itís an evocative set of pictures, to say the least, thatís nostalgic or eye-opening, depending on how old you are. The gallery is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on weekends from 1 to 5 p.m.

Issue Date: September 27 - October 4, 2001