by Cody LaVada –
Kirsty Mitchell is a highly- acclaimed photographer whose work has been featured in such magazines as Italian Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Stern Magazine, while also appearing on popular websites like Huffington Post, Daily Mail and the BBC News. With over 260,000 followers on social media, she is becoming a house-hold name in the field of photography and is showing no signs of stopping with her ingenious creations.
Born in 1976 in the English countryside of Kent, sometimes known as “the Garden of England,” Mitchell lived an idyllic childhood and says that her earliest memories consist of time spent with her mother, who would read fantastic stories to Kirsty and ensnare her in a world of wonder at a young age. Mitchell’s mother was a beloved English teacher who also wrote her own stories and plays and would delight Kirsty by reading them, altering her voice for each character, pausing for dramatic effect to afford Kirsty the most shock and awe. Kirsty says that her mother “instilled in me the most precious gift a mother could – her imagination and a belief in beauty.” The influence of her mother remained imprinted upon Mitchell’s heart and soul as she grew and pursued a career in art and, to this day, she thanks her mother for causing such a perfect union of imagination and desire for seeking out beauty in life.
Art became Kirsty’s sole passion and she studied in various schools until she was 25 years old. She went to the London College of Fashion and the Ravensbourne College of Art, among others, to hone her skills at art history, photography, fine art, fashion and costume design. During her education, she flourished while engaged in two internships, under the tutelage of Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan, both of whom she says inspired and greatly influenced her decisions to focus on couture in her work. Indeed, since 2001, when she was a full- time senior designer at an international fashion label, she has incorporated high fashion into her artwork, regardless of the medium.
In 2007, Mitchell’s career took a drastic turn when a personal illness convinced her to begin taking a break from fashion design and pick up a camera with conviction for the first time. While she had dabbled in photography before, Mitchell says that she had “never looked until it was through a lens.” The advent of photography into her life forever changed her approach to artistry; she says that she began to “fall in love with the faces of strangers” and yearn to photograph all that she could and capture the magical, previously over-looked and neglected facets of life and nature. Kirsty focused on street portraiture from 2007 to 2008, photographing strangers on the streets while she hid behind the lens, using the camera as a means of escape from reality. She turned to self- portraiture in later 2008 to 2009.
Her life was further changed in 2008 when her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her mother, Maureen, eventually passed away in November of that year – a double-edged sword that both deeply devastated Kirsty, and forever changed her artistic course. It was this tragic turning point that spawned the inspiration behind Kirsty’s most expansive and intricate project to date, the renowned “Wonderland” series of photographs.
Dedicated to the memory and legacy of her mother who had taught her the beauty of imagination and the wonder of nature, Kirsty began this series in the summer of 2009 as a means of catharsis. She intended to initially only produce a small series of personal photographs, but soon found that the project was consuming her and that she was finding inspiration all around her, blossoming in her mind by the haunting memories of her mother, and a strong desire to create works of art that would endure and continue to honor Maureen for all time using the essences of the same phantasmagoria that she so loved in life. The camera lens
became a portal through which Kirsty could abandon realism, and her work became a conduit where, for months, therapeutic energy was channeled into the creation of pieces of unparalleled beauty and ingenuity.
Her career truly began to take off when she chose that, in order to celebrate the whimsy and magic of her mother, she would dedicate herself entirely to the “Wonderland” series, working on nothing else and creating magical glimpses into the worlds of fantasy that her mother would read to her. Mitchell says that the characters she depicts in her portraits are “faded memories of stories Mother read to me as a child, mainly their original book illustrations, mixed up with dreams and the underlying sadness of adult grief.”In this way,Mitchell channels her pain and mourning into her art, conjuring up tangible realms of surreal magic that she transforms into physical manifestations that blur childish fancies with the grim reality of adult life, loss and suffering.
Using the medium of photography to capture the fleeting and ethereal glimpses of life that would go otherwise unnoticed, Kirsty creates entire tableaus by hand, using her combined skills as a fashion designer and artist to fabricate every intricate nuance of the photos she creates; each prop and article of clothing is masterfully crafted with the utmost delicacy and attention to detail, and every locale is chosen with the desire of creating a precise moment to capture and make eternal – a snapshot of a ephemeral fantasy world that Kirsty so lovingly and painstakingly formulates over months and months of work – rich, Technicolor landscapes and sensual fairy tale characters who exude beauty, power and fabulous energy.
While the concepts are entirely Kirsty’s, she does have a creative team that help to bring her unique visions to life, helmed by her long term friend and artistic partner, Elbie Van Eeden, whose stunning hair and makeup designs for the portraits truly help to suck viewers deeper into the realms of imagination created by Mitchell, tying together the natural splendor of nature with the bizarre surreality of the wonderland dreamscapes that Kirsty seeks to make. With the help of friends who share her vision, Kirsty is able to fabricate intricate, highly-detailed fashions, design and plan makeup looks that seem to belong on fragile beings who dwell in dreams and imaginings, and schedule her laborious photoshoots for the perfect timeof year to evoke within her portraits the exact feeling, season and emotion that she wants to convey – the barren stillness of winter’s chill, the explosive celebration of spring’s blooming, the flourishing warmth of summer or the mournful decay of autumn’s quiet neglect. Each photoshoot is the result of months of dedication and hard work as she struggles to ensure that each aspect is perfect entirely. To gain insight into this intense creative process, she explains how she once wanted to feature English bluebells in a photograph, but they had run their course for the season. She therefore waited an entire year, until they blossomed the following spring, so that she could include them and feature the glory of nature in a few photos before it vanished for another year. It is this kind of driven dedication that sets Kirsty apart from her contemporaries and makes her dazzling works of art stand above the rest for their sheer beauty and the back-breaking focus put into meticulously crafting each vignette.
In December of 2011, Kirsty left the fashion industry for good to concentrate exclusively on “Wonderland,” exhibiting the photos, and compiling them into a book with which to share the memory of her mother with the world. Now, five years after its inception into her repertoire, the “Wonderland” series is finally completed with 76 pieces total; this monumental chapter of Kirsty’s life is drawing to a close, and paving the way for future projects of equal wonder. She is waiting on the final contract for the printing and distribution of a globally-available “Wonderland” photo book, so that this massive endeavor can be brought full circle and bring the joy to the entire world that her mother shared and inspired within her. She is planning a live exhibition launch in the UK of the entire collection very soon as well– an incredible achievement, years in the making, spawned from such chaotic tragedy.
ArtTour International Magazine is happy to present selections from Mitchell’s incredible “Wonderland” series of photographs in our special publication “ATIM’s Top 20 Fine Art Photographers” . Available at a Barnes & Noble near you!