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And while a fellow photographer focused on the lighting, Everton darted out from behind the camera to arrange everything as she had imagined.

The result is a series of vivid portraits of a woman at iconic stages of history – from formal images in the Elizabethan era and 1920s Shanghai right up to modern ones with touches of Britney Spears and Rihanna.

Samantha Everton's exhibition Indochine features both intricate detail and blazing colour.

It is a long way from how Everton learnt to shoot as a cadet photographer at a suburban newspaper in Melbourne.

"Photojournalism is documenting what's there," she says. "I wanted to move things left and right. It clearly wasn't for me."

After formally studying photography, she moved into studio work for an acclaimed career painstakingly creating images.

"For me the success of the images is in the detail," she says. "I'll go to the nth degree to find a pink bird with a purple beak."

Everton sees Indochine as "a theatrical production" that follows a woman dealing with both Eastern and Western cultural pressures before finding her own identity.

"I come from a background where culture and identity is quite strong in my family," she says.

That background included growing up in the "gorgeous, gorgeous town" of Emerald in central Queensland with three of her four siblings adopted from Asia.

Everton remembers a colour-saturated landscape where the family could find magical green and blue gemstones while panning in a river.

Props for Indochine included a colourful macaw and an albino Burmese python.

"There was cotton blowing down the streets at certain times and we'd imagine it was snow," she says. "Growing up in the '70s and '80s really fed my imagination, being in the middle of nowhere."

Like many newspaper photographers, Everton refuses to digitally alter her images. Everything has to be created "in camera".

"I want authenticity," she says. "The viewer can trust in what they're seeing and be immersed in that moment."

As part of Head On Photo Festival, Indochine opens Arthouse Gallery in Darlinghurst on April 25.

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Garry Maddox

Garry Maddox is a Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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