As a child, the ever-attentive Samantha Everton discovered colourful treasures in the details of her experience. A former hairdresser, she made the unlikely career change to fine art photographer and uncovered her ability to create magical realism.
The first notable thing about your work, including the Marionettes series, is that it seems to refer to the past a lot, with the costumes, settings or eras it portrays. What is the meaning of these references?
I’m doing that to make works neutral, to avoid a specific genre or era in time. My work is very theatrical – it’s a play on our lives. It’s not reality. Theatre and fairytale-like elements are what I use to enhance the feeling of a magic realism. My work is about dreams but it also relates to childhood.
Tell me about the process of creating one of these series. If you’re basing it on theatre and imagination, how do you fit your imagination (i.e., realise your ideas) into a setting?
It takes a between 12 to 18 months for my works to come together. Once I’ve nailed an idea in my head, I need to be very, very specific. I look in op shops and garage sales, and I use found objects. I choose every item individually and nothing makes the cut simply because I’m tired of looking. I walk the streets for months.
For the locations, I find old houses that are close to the image I have in mind and then I build the sets amongst them. I find a house that has atmosphere and then I bring all my props in and create the particular atmosphere I’m after.
Is your work political? It seems like there’s a strong feminist commentary, especially in the Marionettes series of 2011.
I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s political. I always touch on culture and how culture guides how we relate to each other. It’s not specifically about culture or race, but one of those elements is always present. In my first series, Catharsis (2005), the pale-skinned women was in in blue and the darker-skinned women was in red. It’s an important element of the work but the work is not specifically about that.
These current images are more about those moments of self-implosion where you just lose the plot over the usual pressures of daily life, and no-one notices.
Light plays an implicit role in all your work. How do you manipulate it and why?
On my shoots, there are generally anywhere between 10 or 15 lights that I use all at once to highlight different areas and draw the viewer into different parts of the image. I often paint with light by using a torch and long shutter speeds. I open the shutter for one to two minutes, take the torch and highlight different areas of the objects that I want to be visible, or emphasised.
I very rarely show the face or provide eye contact with the person in the photograph. I do this deliberately because I feel the viewer will search the image more if they don’t have eyes to look at (most people will spend a lot of time looking into the eyes of the person in the photograph). So it’s very important that the light be the guide for where your eye falls next.
You didn’t become an artist via the usual methods (i.e., you didn’t learn that at art college), is that right?
Well, sometimes I don’t feel like I’m an artist. I didn’t come from art circles or an art college – I was literally a hairdresser [laughs] before I evolved into this. I came to photography later in life and didn’t know much about the industry. It took me a long time to find my medium, but I know I had a realisation that I could actually create moments, not just document ones.