Surreal in the Suburbs

Published in Courier Mail

by Madeline Healy


IN ONE of Samantha Everton’s photos, a well-dressed woman stands at a wooden table with her face planted in a birthday cake, while a white goose looks on.

In another, a woman hangs from the picture rail in her bedroom, her legs dangling uselessly, while in another a woman with her back to the audience is climbing the wall, lizard-like.

Everton, who describes herself as a theatrical fine art photographer, says the works in her latest exhibition, Marionettes, “show women caught in moments of silent implosion. The pace, pressures and rigours of daily life have reached a crisis point.”

She has spent 18 months putting together the images that will make up the show, going to impressive lengths to source the right costumes, people and house for the images.

She found the house in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick and rented it out for a month. The 100-year-old house was previously rented by a World War II veteran who lived alone, although there were signs of women having lived there earlier.

The purple carpet and yellow curtains were left intact and Everton sourced furniture during her searches through op shops.

Her pictures are “in a sense like a movie still”, she says. “A captured moment in time which has no beginning or end: it’s an unfinished story. There is a sense of movement in the images.

“At the start I sketch my ideas and I have a visual diary. Whenever I’m out and about I’m always looking for ideas and finding things so I start off with a few words or blobs in a notebook.

“I travel through op shops once I have an idea and home in on the feeling or image for the work.

“I just see that teapot, that dress that will spur on the image.”

Everton, who began her career as a news photographer at the Melbourne Times, was born in South Australia and moved to Emerald, in central Queensland, when she was young.

Her family, which included a brother and three adopted siblings from southeast Asia, spent time travelling throughout the country, including taking three months off for a road trip with another family.

She says it is because of this upbringing that she works on themes of race, culture and the way in which we live together today.

She uses native and exotic birds as symbols in her work as a “little reminder” that we all come from different backgrounds and countries.

She is still putting the finishing touches on her Marionettes series because she likes to “live with her images” before deciding which ones to include.

“I like to look at how they relate to each other and how they talk to each other before I decide on the final 10 or 12,” she says.

“My absolutes are just a gut feeling often they are the images of the first sketches I have done.”

As a mother, Everton is aware of the pressures on families, and the struggle to keep things together.

“There’s a sense of not having control, of having to keep up appearances (in my work),” she says.

The faces of her characters are generally obscured, mostly, she says, because her photographs are not about the person in the image, but about the message, the story the picture is telling.