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


Polaroids of Sarah Kate 1998-2000
My 20th century muse. SX-70 Polaroids by Michael Simon Toon


SX-70 Polaroids are the classic instant photographs that the camera spits out immediately after taking. They were extremely convenient compared to previous Polaroid formats, though it eventually became a specialist film, in favor of the relatively economical if less convenient, 35mm format. Polaroids remained the de facto standard for passport photographs and similar applications because of their uniformity, and before digital photography arrived, 669 Polaroids were used by professionals to test exposures before shooting on film. When I was an assistant, the daily Polaroid budget was greater than my wages.



Sarah, Las Vegas Airport, SX-70 Polaroid, 1999


I took thousands upon thousands of Polaroids as an assistant. The 669 Polaroids were peel-apart, and they had a strange smelling paste which developed the picture. The Outkast song is mistaken: shaking a Polaroid picture does not make it develop faster. Temperature does. While shooting on location in the freezing cold weather of England, I had to put the Polaroids under my arm and clothes, strange smelling mystery paste and all, so the film would develop. We had to make sure the exposure was correct. There could be a lot of people to coordinate on a big shoot, and often just one opportunity to get a result.



Sarah, Glass Pool Inn, Las Vegas, SX-70 Polaroid, 1999


I bought my first SX-70 camera in 1999 from Samy’s in Hollywood. Compared to 669s, they were easy to operate. One button and the whole process was automatic. I just had to wait a minute or two, which was a unique experience all by itself. So easy was the whole process, that it encouraged a ‘shooting from the hip’ style, and eventually, I stopped looking through the viewfinder. Of course, digital photography has changed the way we see the value of pictures. With film, every picture really did cost money to produce. More importantly, it was one more picture that couldn’t be taken before the film ran out.



Sarah, on the road to Las Vegas, SX-70 Polaroid, 1999


Unlike medium format or even 35mm film, I could photograph subjects with little to no preparation, but I still photographed the same things that I’ve always photographed: the people I love, just more casually and spontaneously. I’ve had various muses as a photographer - my brother, my close friends, my lovers and even total strangers, but the person that I’ve photographed more than anybody is Sarah. I could say that she is photogenic, but truly she looks just as good in real life too. She is walking art, and all I had to do to make good pictures was point the camera in her direction and press the button.



Me and Sarah, on the road to Las Vegas, camera held by Jade, SX-70 Polaroid, 1999


And I did, constantly, recording my favorite moments. I believe an ‘artist is as artist does,’ creating pieces without knowing why, or knowing whether or not the work has an audience. He or she produces out of reflex, or obsession, or whatever it might be that compels them to ‘make something’ only for the sake of making something. Supposedly, Vincent Van Gogh never sold a painting while he was alive. Today, the world regards him as the greatest painter in history, if market price is the measure of value. According to the old axiom, “you can’t take it with you,” but you can leave anything you like behind.



Jade, on the road to Las Vegas, SX-70 Polaroid, 1999


This is another living work of art, Jade, speaking with her clothes. She wasn’t happy that day. I won’t say why she wasn’t happy, or why she said she wasn’t happy. It’s not important, and even if it was, I wouldn’t say. Not every story can be told. In fact, the best and the worst stories may be the ones that should never be told, and I won’t say which one of them this was. One thing is for sure, she was unhappy, and she let me know about it, as usual. We were best friends, and she wouldn’t have let something thing like being unhappy stop us from hanging out, or else we may never have hung out at all.



Sarah, on the road to Las Vegas, SX-70 Polaroid, 1999


Jade was my best friend, not my muse. My camera-down, feet-up, music-switched-on, bong-out, friend. We hung out every day, in between all the other things people do, like going to work, and doing laundry. The people that you spend time with in between doing those things are your friends-friends. Jade was my friends-friends. Not because I didn’t find her attractive. She was extraordinarily beautiful. She poured out oration like a classic Hollywood movie star, with her two-pack-a-day growly voice: a genuine rock n roll artifact with a tempestuous temperament. Jade turned the everyday into the spectacular.



Sarah, outside our apartment on Melrose, (previously the La Luz De Jesus Gallery), Hollywood, SX-70 Polaroid, 1999


Jade used to scream at me when she didn’t have pot. In the days that I was still using a cell phone, she would phone me up to shout, for sympathy, or something to do, while she couldn’t smoke. I like to smoke too, but she is the only person I’ve ever known to act that way. If anybody else were ever to do the same, I would put the phone down and never answer their calls again. With Jade, it had no effect on me. I was never sympathetic to her whining, which could explain why she also chose me as her friends-friends. To me, Jade was a performance artist, expressing herself with every breath. She was theater.



Sarah, inside apartment on Melrose, Hollywood, SX-70 Polaroid, 1999


I wasn’t the only one to appreciate Jade. Plenty of people put up with her jagged edges, to be able to be close to her. Everybody was enchanted, whether they were girls or boys. Jade waitressed at a bar, and her boss would send her out, or home, to smoke pot if she became agitated, in the hope that she would return in a tolerable mood. There was never a question of firing her, or making her behave reasonably. She could as easily be influenced as the tides or the weather. Knowing Jade meant knowing to love her unconditionally or not at all. The reward was, occasionally, a glimpse of a mischievous smile.



Sarah in bed, Hollywood, SX-70 Polaroid, 1999


I married Sarah, in Las Vegas. Elvis performed the ceremony. We vowed never to take our blue suede shoes out into the rain. Jade was my witness. We had a party with our friends at the Honeymoon Suite at the Glass Pool Inn, a filming location for Indecent Proposal, Casino and Leaving Las Vegas, which was also CGI rendered by Tim Burton for The Killers’ music video, "Bones." We spent the night in a hot tub with our friends. We had lots of champagne, and lots of other things besides. We made some of those stories that should never be told. Jade was happy, and this made her unhappy. Her words, not mine.


Sarah in bed, Hollywood, SX-70 Polaroid, 1999


Jade married too, to a man in a rock n roll band. Everything changed, as it always does. They moved to the desert. This was a time before the internet, and facebook, in a world where people could lose touch. It’s hard to imagine such a majestic creature sitting at a computer, staring at the monitor, typing. At least it’s hard to imagine her doing that, without smashing the computer to the ground the very first time the computer crashed, and then, smiling one of those smiles. Perhaps the computer would be charmed into following her commands, out of a desire for self preservation, or love, like everybody else.