Samantha Everton

Sang Tong - Queensland Launch

April 26 - May 10 2014

Samantha Everton possesses an innate ability to access interior states of being in sumptuous visual narratives that have profound cross-cultural, sociological and psychological implications. The title of her new series of photographic art, Sang Tong, translates as ‘the golden shell’ and comes from a beautiful old folk tale from Thailand that is still a subject of study in Thai schools today. It is about a boy called Sang Tong who emerges triumphant and ‘golden’ from disquieting conditions. The story has a direct relevance to the subjects in Everton’s current body of work for like Sang Tong, the children featured are Thai adoptees who have attained ‘radiance’ in a changing of circumstance. They all now live in Melbourne.

“I’ve come to know these children and their families intimately over the past few years through the Sanuk Club, a place where they meet to play and celebrate their heritage”, says Everton who is herself the mother of an adopted Thai boy, Chot. “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.

In Asian traditions the majestic power of the tiger inspired both fear and wonder. Epitomizing the quiet assurance of Narathorn’s persona he is shown nonchalantly holding the great beast with a guiding rope. “Simply put,” says Everton, “Narathorn is quite a cool, funky boy who is well-respected by his peers. To represent his current urban environment I wanted the background to have a bit of a graffiti feel.” Another child, Takdanai, is depicted in a black tutu and faces an eagle with equanimity and an air of kinship. Ancient lore attributes the eagle with the ability to gaze directly at the sun without blinking and to traverse regions of the heavens inaccessible to mortals. Everton describes Takdanai as a sensitive and extremely confident boy who exhibits a distinctive flair for the performance arts. “From an early age he has delighted in designing elaborate sets at home, donning ‘fancy dress’ costumes and putting on little theatre shows during his school lunch breaks.”

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.”

A consummate technician, Everton’s compositions illuminate hidden domains. “Suspension is the dominant word that comes to mind when I think of my working method for this series,” she comments. “The sets and lighting considerations were to the degree of making a small film in their complexity. If you were standing in the studio at the time of the shoot you would have seen a large, completely blacked out room. The magical world was in the centre where each child lay on a high, glass structure that I had constructed. Suspended objects dangled in front of them and below the glass plating were symbolic props and painted canvases referencing particular aspects of the children’s personalities. If you looked up you would have seen me suspended with camera, quite literally harnessed to the top of a cherry picker six metres above the set and endeavoring to capture that singular, spontaneous moment.”

Melbourne-based Everton’s narrative skill and unerring integrity of photographic process has been well celebrated and awarded over the past ten years. Most recently in 2011 she was a Finalist in the Olive Cotton Photography Prize, Tweed River Regional Gallery and the Prometheus Art Prize. In 2010 Everton gained international recognition with First and Third place awards in the Px3 Paris International Photography Awards and was a Finalist in the London International Creative Competition.


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