Picture Perfect

Published in Gold Coast Bulletin

by Marina St Martin


If photographic art is to finally take its rightful place next to other fine art forms in this country, it will be due to work by artists such as Samantha Everton.

Everton is an award-winning documentary photographer and a photographic artist, whose first Gold Coast exhibition is being held at Anthea Polson Gallery, where she is showing her already acclaimed body of work, Vintage Dolls.

This is a series of 13 exquisitely staged and produced photographs, exploring themes of childhood enchantment, set in a half-awake world of shadows and dreams.

Vintage Dolls is about serious play – and playful seriousness. It has both surrealism and realism; is in the moment and yet about the whole of life. It is also about adult themes and childhood.

“In this series I wanted to present a child’s perspective about adult subject matter,” Everton says. She places particular emphasis on race and culture, ‘much of which came about because of my own upbringing in a multicultural family’.

So she presents a series of frozen vignettes, telling not a story, but rather shedding light on a single moment. This moment can be viewed as an integral part of, and having a vital place in, the unseen but still present a bigger picture.

The images capture surreal adult-themed moments, all expressed from a child’s fantastical perspective.

Everton takes total creative control of her work from the initial sourcing to completion: “I am constantly rummaging through second-hand shops sourcing props and costumes.”

She also does her own set design and styling, as well as hair and make-up for the shoots.

She sources her locations, too, and is always on the lookout for the right place.

“Vintage Dolls is set in a 100-year-old house that I found and arranged to rent for one month while I set up the shoot,” she says.

As the house was to be demolished, Everton had the creative freedom she needed.

“For the image Secret Garden I cut a hole in the lounge room floor and submerged a live tree in it.”

She has also been known ‘to wallpaper a room or remove fireplaces to create my vision’.

For this show she was inspired by ‘the innocent act of children playing dress-ups, and the way they re-enact adult behaviour, concepts and themes without preconceptions or judgement’.

There is certainly a sense of fantasy set around a full-size dolls’ house playtime taking place in a series of rooms, with each tableaux caught at a moment of importance and possibly even crisis.

The photography is accomplished and adventurous, presented with empathy and also a touch of the reportage-style of capturing the moment.

It can take Everton up to a year to prepare a shoot, from sketching the idea, sourcing the props, models and location, and then preparing every detail. If she decides on a blue bird with a pink beak, then nothing less will do.

She then uses this perfectionism to comment on history, race and culture.

“Vintage Dolls continues my interest in the subconscious; where our innermost thoughts and emotions are played out in elaborately staged and theatrical compositions,” Everton says.

While based in Melbourne, Everton grew up in Emerald in central Queensland in a family of Asian and Caucasian heritage.

She travelled overseas for four years, doing a variety of jobs, including barbering in London using traditional cut-throat razors.

On her return to Australia she did volunteer work in photographic studios, became a cadet photographer with The Melbourne Times and did a degree in photography, graduating from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in 2003 at the top of her class, winning the Steve Vizard Most Creative Folio Award and the Highest Aggregate Score Winner for photography students.

Everton has since won a number of prestigious art prizes, such as the 2006 McGregor Prize for Photography and the 2005 Australian Leica Documentary Photographer of the Year award.