Published in BIFB Core Program Catalogue
by Nicola Garvey
Submerged in chilly waters off the coast of Victoria’s southern tip, in the Southern Ocean, a young woman gasps for breath. Goose pimples crowd her arms and legs as she struggles against the lapping waves, struggles against the cold, her lips as blue as the dress she wears, which sways with the rhythm of the ocean, gently slapping her pale, exposed body.
Again she plunges, sweeping through the water, her focus intent on the mossy outcrop just a few metres away. She’s panicky, from the cold, but the beauty of the underwater scene below calms her. As she draws closer she reaches out to clutch the oceanic vegetation but recoils at the sensation of slick, hardy seaweed caressing her hands and arms. She swiftly changes direction propelling herself upward, quickly, breaking through the surface, spraying water as she gasps for air.
“How long, how long?” she pleads.
“Six minutes,” is the response.
“Okay, let’s have a changeover,” directs Samantha Everton from her submerged position at the far edge of the rock pool. She hauls herself out of the water and sits on a flattish rock inspecting her camera, her legs dangling in the cool water, protected from the cold by the thick, full-body, black wetsuit.
Her Camera, a basic model with just two standardised settings, is a vast departure from the sophisticated equipment she usually employs. The sun, her main lighting resource, is both her inspiration and her inhibitor forcing her to work within its limited dimensions, yet providing ample breadth between shadow and illumination.
“More film,” she requests handing her camera to an assistant, her ‘wet’ assistant, also dressed in a wetsuit, who, in turn, hands it over to a, ‘dry’, assistant who changes the film and hands it back down the chain again. The young woman in the blue dress has been wrapped up in a silver survival blanket and is sipping on a warm cup of coco and in the meantime a second woman wades into the water to knee high, her dark hair a distinctive contrast to her vibrant red dress.
“I’m ready,” she calls.
Samantha slips into the water and flexes her fingers, they’re beginning to stiffen from the cold but the afternoon light has taken on a soft golden hue, so she doesn’t want to stop now.
The red-robed woman dives in and the sudden cold exhilarates her while the familiar underwater silence makes her feel cut-off from the world, if even just for a moment. And in that moment she finds a profound cocoon-like peace. A camera flash cuts through the water like a bolt of electricity, breaking her from her reverie, then, she is in shadow again.
Samantha breaks to the surface. The afternoon clouds have started to roll in and the much needed light source is lost, so she decides to call it a wrap. She attempts to haul herself onto the nearby rock but falls back into the water. She’s tiring. After eight or nine hours in the water the cold has chilled her to the core. She unclips her weight belt and tosses it on the rocks and attempts her exit again, this time she makes it.
Back at the studio she works into the night, dying to discover how the shots have turned out. The whole experience has been quite different to how she’d normally conduct her work which is typically highly stylized and staged; choreographed and planned to the finest detail. Wanting to challenge herself, to test and extend her abilities, this time she threw away the controlled studio environment in favour of a more spontaneous canvas, a less predictable outcome, seeking harmony with the elements around her, while still being challenged to create a story, to create questions and intrigue in the viewers’ minds, offering multidimensional perspectives.
The shots come into focus. At first glance, the two women appear at ease basking in the ocean, their reflections on the water’s surface. Yet, the delicate dresses they wear, barely covering their exposed bodies, hint at a vulnerability, mere feathers caught up in the forces of nature. All alone they are surrounded by shadow and while the sun above tinkles and dazzles what lies below seems more ominous and silent.
The work is mesmerizing, for, it is both calming and unsettling. The underwater silence and the oppressive beauty of the ocean safely embrace us if only for a moment, for it is an ultimately inhospitable environment, providing only momentary reprieve from ourselves, from our lives, a mere blink in defense against the blazing sun.
The vivid colour, so distinctive to Everton’s work, encourages a sense of living, of being alive and this is highlighted by the movement in the works; the ripples on the water, the dancing light particles, the flowing reeds and the women, whose languid movements appear as though they are in a private, indulgent moment.
The grainy imagery delivers a touch of remoteness to the work, harking back to summer days and faded memories, complimenting the series beautifully. The works are a departure from Everton’s signature style but their beauty and complexity prove she can be creatively adventurous and, like the works she creates, multidimensional.