Sang Tong: Suspended Animation

Samantha Everton brings to vibrant life the tension and drama of the inner world of children adopted from Thailand in her latest series of hyper-real photographic art, April – June 2014

Takdanai
Takdanai”, Samantha Everton, 2014

Samantha Everton has an avid following for her elaborately staged and highly theatrical photographs. Her mesmerizing images deny linear explanations, seemingly hovering between the real and the imaginary, waking and dreams.

Her latest series, Sang Tong, is a series of portraits of young children adopted from Thailand and now living in Australia, including Everton’s son. Everton captures the children in fantastical scenes that reflect their innermost thoughts and emotions, bringing to life a hyper-real version of each child’s personality.

Everton has deliberately avoided the digital manipulation of images, and her latest series takes her creative ability to a new level, as she has constructed each image entirely in front of the camera. Shooting vertically down from a height of 6 metres, Everton used an elaborate set including a custom-built glass stage to position her models and create the worlds of their imagination with complete artistic freedom.

In highlighting their diversity and individuality, Everton challenges society’s tendency to stereotype these children as adoptees, rather than appreciating them as unique and complex individuals. “I’ve come to know these children and their families intimately over the past few years says Everton. “These children live in two worlds. They identify themselves as Thai but they’re also everyday Aussie kids. I wanted to show both the harmony and the tension between their dual realities.” In a symbolic interweaving of inner and outer realms Everton creates a mood of transcendence and renascence amidst the cultural variances. Each image subtly alludes to an individual biography and is titled with the child’s name.

The title of the exhibition is from an old Thai folk tale, Sang Tong – the Golden Shell. Sang Tong was born into royalty but abandoned and later adopted by a giantess, who disguised herself so that the boy would not feel like an outsider. At age 10 he found out he was adopted and fled to explore his surrounds. He submerged himself in a well of silver and gold, emerging with a beautiful golden body. He also puts on a magical mask, which disguised him as an ugly person. Sang Tong later encountered a princess who sees past the disguise and falls in love with the beautiful man within. The tale’s themes of adoption, escape, disguise and inner beauty are all pertinent to the narrative concerns in Everton’s new works.

These are pictures of a secret universe within the psyche and as such, the imagery assumes a theatrical dimension more akin to that seen in dreams than waking life. The children appear to hover in an indefinite space of amplified colouration and streaming runnels of paint that seem to pulsate, vascular-like. There is a sense of holding time in timelessness as a hyper-real version of each child’s sense of self is manifested. Visual ambiguities tease the imagination, offering a multiplicity of possible readings. “I want the viewer to feel drawn into the story”, Everton explains, “but I like it to be open-ended, with a sense of incompleteness or mystery that leaves one wondering what happens next. For this reason I rarely have the subject looking at the camera.”

Since graduating from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 2003 Samantha Everton has won numerous awards for her dramatic photographs including the prestigious Prix de la Photographie Paris (Px3)(Portraiture – Children), 2010; McGregor Prize for Photography Award, 2006 and Leica Documentary Photographer of the Year Award, 2005. Everton has been a finalist in prizes including the Olive Cotton Award for Photographic Portraiture, 2011; and Prometheus Visual Arts Award, 2011 and work was ‘Highly Commended’ in the Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize in both 2009 and 2010.

Media enquiries: Nicola Stein Ph: 03 9417 7172, E: gallery@helengory.com

SANG TONG COLLECTION
Takdanai Takdanai
Pigment ink on cotton rag
900mm x 975
Samantha Everton 2014
Narathorn Narathorn
Pigment ink on cotton rag
900mm x 1080
Samantha Everton 2014
Teerachot Teerachot
Pigment ink on cotton rag
900mm x 1080
Samantha Everton 2014