→Our Vera, Downtown LA 2013
Digital photography of Vera Toon
Friends and Family 1993-1999
Film photography of my friends and family
Polaroids of Sarah Kate 1998-2000
SX-70 Polaroids: My 20th century muse
Home and Away: Walsall vs. LA 1998-2000
SX-70 Polaroids: Born in Walsall, live and die in LA
Bangkok Transsexuals 1996
Film photography of transsexuals in swimsuits
Me and (Coachella) 2003
Compact digital self-portrait photography
Fernet Saved My Life
Anecdotal benefits of bitters
michaelsimontoon.com
Filmmaker, photographer, designer
info@plainfoodsociety.com


Our Vera, Downtown LA
Digital photography of Vera Toon


I hardly ever use a camera’s built-in light meter. I use the method passed on to me by my employer, when I was a young photographic assistant aged 18; I lick my thumb and hold it in the air, then I take a wild guess at the correct exposure. It works every time, especially after the first few thousand tries. So, is a ‘good’ or ‘important’ photograph one that is well-exposed? Almost certainly not. The Buddha, though not a photographer, set out on his journey with one objective: to relieve suffering. My father told me when I was very young, “I think the point of life is to be happy,” which I think amounts to much the same. Does a ‘good’ photograph make us happy? Again, not necessarily. I like to think that a picture that tells a story, or reveals a truth or beauty, is good. So, why ‘Plain Food Society?’



Vera coaxed out of the kitchen for a 30 second photo-shoot. No makeup, no photoshop. Si-Huis Crane Lamp (see reflection in the eyes), SLR, 2013


Sir Christopher Wren (b.1632 d.1723) was an astronomer, geometer, mathematician and physicist. He was proficient in optics, ocean navigation, cosmology, mechanics, microscopy, surveying, medicine and meteorology. Wren was an ‘architect’ and builder in a time when educated and learned gentlemen would take it upon themselves to design and build architecture, solely by the application of general knowledge, physics, mathematics and construction methods. Today, the title or term “architect” is legally protected, just as the title “doctor” is. American icons of architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles and Ray Eames, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Thomas Jefferson, also did not hold degrees in architecture and could not, today, have legally called themselves architects.



View through the window. Historic Core District. iPod instagram, 2014


Sir Christopher Wren was a giant in his own lifetime, but like every man, he had to eat food. Wren started a dinner club for himself and his friends. He called it, ‘The Plain Food Society.’ We only know that, ‘the club was started as a reaction to the many heavily flavored foods and their sauces that were becoming popular in England, influenced by the cuisine of France.’ His issue with these particular foods is unclear. Perhaps it was just a tongue-in-cheek reference of other societies at the time. Almost 40 years later, in my own home town of Great Barr, the Lunar Society of Birmingham was formed, which counted Erasmus Darwin (Charles Darwin’s grandfather) and (in a spectacular example of historic social networking) Benjamin Franklin among its members.



Vera looking out the window. SLR, 2013


Members of the Lunar Society’s homes and were burned in the Birmingham Riots of 1791. The Priestly Riots, as they are also called, mainly targeted religious dissenters, which included Lunar Society member, Joseph Priestly - isolator of oxygen and inventor of soda. Societies had the potential to affect significant change, and therefore influence (and sometimes offend) many people. Perhaps Sir Christopher Wren chose plain food as inspiration for his society, as it was a subject that would upset very few people; there are few clues to his true motivation. Perhaps, such a learned and academic person as Wren might also have questions, doubts and concerns about the world he found himself in. The term ‘plain food’ itself raises more questions than it answers.



Much needed LA rain. View through the window. Historic Core District. iPod, 2014


“Fraudulent food tastes sweet upon the lips, but turns into gravel in the mouth.” This line from Proverbs would suggest that people have been complaining about falsely flavored foods for at thousands of years, and almost certainly longer. It’s literally, an age-old problem. This biblical statement, perhaps more so than others, is open to some interpretation. Either nature could be perpetrating the food fraud; or else it could be committed by another person by way of cleverness, and motivated by profit, using spices or textures that excite the palate, but which don’t nourish the body.



Vera drying her hair. Historic Core District. SLR, 2013


Another interpretation is this: ‘Food obtained by fraud tastes sweet, but turns into gravel in the mouth.’ That is, stolen (but otherwise nourishing) food comes with unexpected and undesirable consequences. All of the above could be true. Proverbs is one of the most practical chapters of one of the greatest repositories of wisdom in all of human history. A message so simple as, “Don’t steal food,” seems less likely. It seems more likely that the statement is referring to our susceptibility to fraud via the taste-buds, whether that fraud is perpetrated by man, or by nature.



Vera getting dressed, and me having a Helmut Newton moment. Historic Core District. SLR, 2013


Ask anybody the question, “What is food?” and most people would agree on certain facts. ‘Food is a fuel.’ This is true for everybody. ‘Food is enjoyable.’ This is true for most of us. The most contentious food question to ask anyone might be, “Which food is beneficial and necessary, and which is not?” The answers to this question may differ the most. It is fair to say that the question, “What is food?” is as old as life itself. Some of us can live our entire lives without thinking about food. Others are obsessed with it. It’s also true that the healthiest specimens amongst us don’t even eat what some people would consider ‘food.’



Vera illuminated by a Si-Huis Bi-Plane Lamp, wearing my coat and glasses. Arts District, DTLA, 2012


The food pyramid might be our first go-to reference. However the typical Inuit or Mongolian diet is an inverted version of this, and yet both groups are well known for being healthy and vigorous, in contrast to the western world. Fruit and vegetables are rare or entirely unavailable for them, so to call them essential would fly in the face of logic. Certain truths are self-evident. We need air. We need water. There may be some things that we need, and don’t need, that we are not aware of. Once upon a time, we as a culture, believed that the body needed only protein, carbohydrates and fat. Later, we found out that there are other trace substances in food that we also need, which we called vitamins. Is that really the end of the story? 



Vera digging the garden, pulling the weeds. View through the window, Arts District, DTLA. IPad Instagram, 2012


In other parts of the world, there are people who live on fruit. There are people who live on vegetables. Rice. Trash. Alcohol. Some of these people are also very healthy, sometimes against all odds. Some people, perhaps tricksters or illusionists, have said that they can live on sunlight alone. There are so many of us in the world that it’s not that unreasonable to think that somebody, somewhere, can photosynthesize. Stranger things have happened. One man’s meat might be another man’s poison. In theory, we didn’t start off with eyes, ears, noses, hands, and speech. We picked these up along the way; fortunate mutations that worked out nicely.



Vera in front of our Si-Huis Bi-Plane prototype lamp, Arts District, DTLA. iPod Instagram, 2012


Somebody, somewhere, may be able to thrive on the hard-to-spell ingredients that are ubiquitous amongst food products across the western world. There may even be a sub-group of people that can live on the mysterious and anonymous ‘vegetable’ oils contained in those same products, which, at the turn of the 20th century were used only for oil lamp fuel and fattening cattle before market. It’s also true that another person might take one bite of an apple and become sick, because simply, apples just aren’t good for them. A scientist should not presume either. Every possible theory should be tested, and every human is different.



Elena, our daughter. Historic Core District. No photoshop, natural daylight (see reflection in the eyes), SLR, 2015


This scientific method is age-old: presume nothing whatsoever; hypothesis, experiments, and observation, testing all the variables in isolation. The Buddha said, “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”