Samantha Everton has gone to extraordinary lengths in producing her art photographs, especially with her Sang Tong series.
In a normal world, if a photographer scoured a city to find a studio with a ceiling high enough to accommodate a hydraulic cherry-picker, it would be reasonable to assume some degree of madness was involved. But not in the world of Melbourne art photographer Samantha Everton.
After 10 years of building a career based on surreal and sometimes unsettling photos, she reached new heights – physically as well as in an artistic sense – with the magic realism of her Sang Tong series.
The eight complex images, constructed from elements in suspension, and each with a young child at its heart, weren’t achieved through digital trickery. There was no merging or montaging, nor any other digital post-production.
‘What you see is exactly what I saw when I pushed the shutter button,’ says Everton. ‘I made my models and backgrounds appear to float by shooting vertically downwards from six metres above the floor, towards a number of layers.’
At the centre was a custom-built, weight-bearing glass platform, two metres square and three metres off the ground. The children lay on the platform and objects were suspended above and below them with fishing line. Below that, on the studio floor, were painted canvases.
‘I used a combination of flash, tungsten and painted torch light,’ she says. ‘Their different colour temperatures and long exposires create vibrancy. Sometimes several lights were positioned within the frame, hidden behind objects or the child’s body.
‘One of the challenges with Sang Tong was me being suspended up in the cherry-picker, having to relay instructions to several assistants down below. I took 30 if not 50 exposures of each composition, and every split second was slightly different. The look in an eye, the point of a toe, the light on a leaf; everything had to be just right.
I prefer the grain of film when printing my images full-size, and didn’t want to compromise on image quality. I was fortunate to secure the sponsorship of Nikon for my first digital shoot. I used a D800E, capturing 100 megabytes a frame, and I’m very pleased with the results.’
Everton says she likes her images to tell a story, but she’s not comfortable talking about their meaning. ‘I don’t want to dictate to the viewer what they see within the images. They each contain enough ideas for the viewer to identify with and construct the narrative that talks to them.’
Everton grew up in remote mining towns in central Queensland, mainly Emerald and Capella. She worked and travelled overseas as a hairdresser for eight years before moving to Melbourne in 1999 to begin her photography career.
She has always been artistic, but says it took her a long time to find her medium. ‘I used to paint, sew, design elaborate cakes and make just about anything with my hands.’ Even as a hairdresser, she favoured weird and wonderful hairstyles. For he first photography exhibition she used a cut-throat razor to shave elaborate patterns into people’s hair, painted them and photographed them.
Before studying photography at RMIT in Melbourne, she was a cadet photographer at The Melbourne Times newspaper. ‘I realized early on that I wanted to change the things in front of me – move this over there, manipulate that – and of course you can’t do that with photojournalism. I loved doing the feature work, taking portraits of artists and other people. That evolved into the highly constructed images I produce today.’
In recent years her work has been well recognized with awards and glowing media coverage in Australia and overseas. In 2010 she achieved first place in the portrait category, third place in the fine art category and an honourable mention at the prestigious Prix de la Photographie in Paris. In 2011, she was featured in an issue of the British Journal of Photography based on a worldwide search for emerging talent.
Everton says she’s content with concentrating on the art photography market in Australia and is making a living on that basis. ‘Australia has a strong market, very open to photography as an artform. There may be some opportunities in Asia in the future, but I’m very happy in Australia.’
She typically has one year on – ‘the creation year’ – and one year off ‘the exhibition year.’ ‘I travel the exhibition and that covers my costs.’
She is represented by three galleries across Australia: Anthea Polson Gallery in Queensland, Art House Gallery in NSW and Helen Gory Galerie in Victoria.
‘All sorts of people buy my prints, from newcomers to the art scene to collectors to institutions. I had a call from a gallery asking if I’d put a print on lay-by for an 18-year-old boy who wanted to pay it off with income from his first job. I loved that.’
Facade 2 Girls Building
To see more of Samantha Everton’s work, visit www.samanthaeverton.com
Excerpt from Photo Review Issue 61