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On Island Profile: Steve Simonsen


July 11, 2005 – If St. John resident Steve Simonsen's name seems more than a bit familiar, it just might be because you see it often in magazines like Caribbean Travel and Life. He's one of the area's best-known photographers and sells regularly to numerous top-notch magazines.
His photos have appeared in National Geographic Explorer, National Geographic Adventurer, Islands magazine, at a Kodak photo exhibit entitled Planet Ocean, in numerous pieces for the V.I. Tourism Department, and in various other local, regional and national publications.
He teaches photography and videography at St. John School on Gifft Hill, and in recent years began honing his skills as a videographer.
Simonsen has lived an adventurous life. Born 46 years ago in Royal Oak, Mich., he went on to try out California, which he says was "too crowded," before moving on to Boulder, Colo.
After studying science subjects at the University of Colorado, he moved into teaching scuba diving at the same school. He led trips to such tropical places as the Cayman Islands, Cozumel and Bonaire.
In 1982 he started working as a scuba instructor at Club Med. After stints in Martinique, Cancun, the Red Sea, Egypt, Mexico's Playa Blanca, and the French Polynesian island of Moorea, he became an underwater photographer at Club Med in Eleuthera in the Bahamas.
"Leading up to that I was doing photography as a hobby," he said, noting that initially he was only interested in underwater photography.
He also spent a season as a ski bum at Copper Mountain, Colo.
While in Moorea, he got married. The couple moved to the Bahamas and then in 1987 to St. Thomas because his wife, a French citizen, was unable to work in the Bahamas. They soon divorced.
Simonsen was working as a dive instructor at Chris Sawyer Dive Center when he met his current wife, Janet Simonsen, who worked at Aqua Action. The two married, and after business fell off following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, moved to Guam, where Simonsen opened a photography company at a dive shop.
They spent two years in Guam, where their son, Jesse, now 15, was born.
Simonsen was looking hard for a job elsewhere in the Pacific, but his wife wanted to return to St. John where she was close to friends. He said he was interested in St. John since it had V.I. National Park and an established artistic community. He convinced his wife to be the family's main support so he could pursue his photography career. She agreed and they moved to St. John in 1991.
Janet Simonsen found a job as manager at Low Key Watersports, and Simonsen signed on as their underwater photography concession.
Five years ago Janet Simonsen quit that job to become her husband's full-time agent.
"That's the way to make it work," he said.
He said business is good, with his self-published book, "Living Art," in its second printing. He said this was the best project he ever did.
"I followed my bliss," he said.
This month, his works are on display at Bajo El Sol, an art gallery in Mongoose Junction shopping center.
Visit Simonsen's Web site at www.stevesimonsen.com. To contact Simonsen by phone, call 775-4485.
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