Samantha Everton’s Vintage Dolls

I must apologize to Arizona and Pigtails readers for not getting to this sooner.  Ideally, this would have been posted before Halloween.  -Ron

Back in 2015 Pip produced a Halloween themed post featuring the work of Samantha Everton. As this is not the artist’s only project to feature girls, I thought it would be a good idea to create another Halloween post featuring her series entitled ‘Vintage Dolls’, which also has a spooky feel to it.

Everton is a multi-awarded and exhibited photographic artist who completed a degree in photography at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. When she graduated in 2003, she was at the top of her class and had also received her first awards, one for having the Highest Aggregate Score Winner for photography students and the other was the Steve Vizard Most Creative Folio Award.

Samantha Everton – Adagio – (2008)

The creation of her photo shoots can sometimes take a year, from sketching the idea, finding the location, sourcing the props, then the models and even deciding on how the styling, hair and makeup appears. In her ‘Vintage Dolls’ shoot the house was the most time consuming prop to find, largely because Everton planned on partially demolishing it. After many months of searching she found a house that was about to be torn down, which also had an owner who was willing to give her complete control of the building. After signing a one month lease she set about changing the appearance of the place by putting up wallpaper, smashing holes in walls and planting a tree in the lounge room.

Samantha Everton – Masquerade – (2008)

The series ‘Vintage Dolls’ is a collection of twelve works depicting several children participating in a surreal game of dress-up and make believe, however the artist never explains the symbolism or narrative content of the images, instead leaving the viewer to guess the meaning behind the photographs. She does give some clues as she explains that:

The house had a ghostly feeling and remnants of a past life; it juxtaposed against the playfulness of the children … It’s like the children are in an attic and they’re play-acting but on a deeper level, I wanted to show how children interact with culture and how they absorb and re-enact what they see. I wanted there to be a child with whom each person could identify.

The two images below show how surreal some of these images can become with the aforementioned tree, featuring in Nocturne, and a levitating cat, appearing in Camellia.

Samantha Everton – Nocturne – (2008)

Samantha Everton – Camellia – (2008)

Each of these images are a meter in width and height, therefore some don’t transfer well to small image sizes. For example, in the image entitled Black Forest you cannot tell whether the child on the bed has her eyes open or not, even a small difference like this can change one’s interpretation of the artwork’s meaning. The reason for including it here is because it seems to be the favourite among these images. At the exhibition for this series when other images had either not sold, or had sold up to only three prints, the Black Forest had sold over six prints.

Samantha Everton – Black Forest – (2008)

While the symbolism to that image is complex and obscure, I cannot see beyond the Red Riding Hood imagery. The next is clearly about racism; in Party Dress a young girl stands in front of a mirror, in reality wearing western clothes, but in the reflection she wears the clothes of her home country. The image suggests that the girl is wishing that she was living in a place that is more accepting of her appearance.

Samantha Everton – Party Dress – (2008)

The next two artworks imply a desire to escape something. In Secret Garden one of the girls looks out a hole in the wall but is seemingly unable to get out there. Whereas in the Bewitching Hour one girl, who is the only child in the series to smile, literally takes flight on a flamingo, while the other unsmiling girl is stuck on a bird that stubbornly refuses to move.

Samantha Everton – Secret Garden – (2008)

Samantha Everton – Bewitching Hour – (2008)

The entire twelve images from this series can be seen on Samantha Everton’s website, though these images are rather small and nine larger images can be found at the Arthouse Gallery website. Additionally, if anyone else wants to share their theories about what any of these images could mean then please leave a comment below.

Samantha Everton’s Childhood Fears

I had planned to spend the entire month making posts on artistic horror imagery, including a dissection of two of my favorite horror films featuring girls, but due to circumstances out of my control I have not had much time to work on Pigtails.  I will try to work in three or four posts that adhere to the theme though, and this is the first.  The artist is Samantha Everton, a photographer based in Melbourne, Australia whose work often incorporates children, particularly young girls.  Of special interest for us this month is her series Childhood Fears, where she explores the darker side of girlhood.  Her palette is stark and cold—black, white, blues and greens—and a sense of dread pervades her images, making them a good fit for October.

The first two pieces directly confront the common childhood fear of stranger abduction.  Though it is extremely rare, society and media constantly remind children of ‘stranger danger’, making it a ripe area for artistic exploration of childhood fears.  These photographs use the common semiotic convention of the innocent girl-child (in a white dress) against the blackness of night to express the anxiety and menace of the faceless stranger approaching his potential victim on the road in his big dark automobile.  In the first image, the girls’ vulnerability is reflected in the sheerness of their dresses, and there is a certain sexual tension in visibility of their legs through the flimsy material.  In the second image, the girl runs away, but there is little hope of her outrunning her stalker.

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - Night Without Darkness

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – Night Without Darkness

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - Invisible Children

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – Invisible Children

The remaining photos settle on domestic unease.  The first of these presents a birthday party, but there is no joy here.  Everything feels overly stiff and formal, devoid of emotion, even mechanical and inhuman.  The title of this piece, Fear of Understanding, suggests that there is perhaps some unspoken secret that everyone present senses but does not fully grasp, the revelation of which will be devastating for all involved.  Thus, it remains the elephant in the room.  Questions abound.  For example, why does the dark-haired girl have a cupcake while the other girl does not?  And why does she need a cupcake at all when there is a full-sized birthday cake?  Whose birthday is it anyway?  Here again are those gauzy white dresses on the girls (mimicked, it must be said, by the translucent curtains), while the parents wear darker, more subdued clothing.

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - Fear of Understanding

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – Fear of Understanding

The next image uses the exact same setting, intimating that it is part of the same narrative as the image above.  Here the blond girl sits alone, covering her eyes.  Has the terrible secret been revealed at last?  Why does the girl cover her eyes?  Is she crying, or is there something she is afraid to see?  The birthday cake and other desserts remain untouched, and there is something menacing implicit in the silhouettes of the trees behind her.  This image effectively taps into what is perhaps the quintessential childhood fear: isolation.

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - Holding On

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – Holding On

The next photo addresses another childhood dread: the breakdown of the family.  As the child passes outside her parents’ bedroom, she is aware of something wrong and terrible happening between her mother and father—an argument, maybe, perhaps owing to the revelation of the big secret generating the tension in Fear of Understanding—which is only hinted at in the image.  Mother sags on the bed as father stands before her, his stern reflection captured in the mirror.  If I keep my eyes closed, the girl thinks as she passes briskly by the open doorway, I can ignore what is going on and pretend everything is normal again.

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - If I Keep My Eyes Closed

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – If I Keep My Eyes Closed

And now our girls stands quietly backlit in a dim hallway, her eyes still closed.  This is my favorite of these images.  Perhaps nowhere does the girl seem more vulnerable and ethereal than she does here.  The darkness behind her holds such portent and foreboding.

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - Silent

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – Silent

In the next piece, the two little girls stand side by side beneath twin copies of what appears to be Thomas Lawrence’s Pinkie, though you’ll note that one copy seems to have blond hair and the other dark, and that their positions are reversed from the living girls in the photo.  The meaning here is much more oblique, and the key to it all may be the pigeon in the blond girl’s hand.  Pigeons, being famously one of the first domesticated avian species, is thus symbolic of the home.  And yet, the presence of the bird here feels odd and out-of-place.  Likewise, the dark-haired girl’s hair billows while the blond girl’s hair remains still.  Although these girls are around the same age and dressed identically, they do not project a familial bond.  It’s almost like they are standing in the exact same spot in the same home at very different times and are completely unaware of each other.  Once again, there are hints of some strange and unnatural narrative here.  One can easily imagine an entire story with this photo series, where one of the children is a ghost haunting the other one without her awareness.  I think it is the dark-haired girl who is the ghost.  What do you think?

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - The Space Between Acceptance

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – The Space Between Acceptance

My evidence for this contention is this next photo, where the brunette girl is absent entirely but the second Pinkie is still in place!

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - Don't Let Go

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – Don’t Let Go

But then, there’s this . . .

Samantha Everton - Childhood Fears - The Suffocation of Fear

Samantha Everton – Childhood Fears – The Suffocation of Fear

The notion that the darker girl is a spirit casts the birthday party scene in a whole new light too.

Samantha Everton (official site)