Kirsty Mitchell’s extraordinary Wonderland series – three years in the making

Danaus: A close-up of a model before a sunlit backdrop, peering through a veil of paper butterflies

Danaus: A close-up of a model before a sunlit backdrop, peering through a veil of paper butterflies

Kirsty Mitchell’s late mother Maureen was an English teacher who spent her life inspiring generations of children with imaginative stories and plays. Following Maureen’s death from a brain tumour in 2008, Kirsty channelled her grief into her passion for photography.

She retreated behind the lens of her camera and created Wonderland, an ethereal fantasy world. The photographic series began as a small summer project but grew into an inspirational creative journey.

Kirsty explains:

Real life became a difficult place to deal with, and I found myself retreating further into an alternative existence through the portal of my camera.

Kirsty Mitchell has dedicated her Wonderland photographic series to the memory of her late mother, Maureen, who lost her life to a brain tumour in 2008
Kirsty continues:

This escapism grew into the concept of creating an unexplained storybook without words, dedicated to her [my mother], that would echo the fragments of the fairytales she read to me constantly as a child.

Kirsty, 36, who has a background in fashion and costume design, collaborated with hair and make-up artist Elbie Van Eeden. Both were in full-time jobs so they spent evenings and weekends creating props, wigs, and sets on a shoestring budget and shot in the woodlands surrounding Kirsty’s home in Surrey.

Kirsty developed a deep bond and respect for the locations in which she was working and strove, through her pictures, to ‘remind others of their forgotten magic and beauty‘.

She became fascinated with pockets of wild flowers such as the bluebells that would appear for only a few brief weeks of the year. In some cases, she would wait a full 12 months so she could shoot costumes matched to the vivid colours of nature.

The Storyteller: a reference to Kirsten's mother, a model on a carpet of bluebells enveloped by books

 The Storyteller: A reference to Kirsten’s English teacher mother, a model sits elegantly
on a carpet of bluebells enveloped by books

Kirsty explained that all the characters came to her in dreams, but that she delighted in the chance to step into the scenes for real:

After all, it’s not often you get to stand beside an eight foot princess in the rain, or witness the dawn with a dancing circus girl on stilts!

The Queen's Armada: A fantasy queen sales a fleet of the most delicate paper ships

The Queen’s Armada: A fantasy queen sails a fleet of the most delicate paper ships

The resulting images looked so hyper-real that it was assumed that they were created in Photoshop. Many people believed the photographs were shot all around the world, when in reality they were taken in locations within short drives of her Surrey home.

So Kirsty began to write diary accounts and blog behind-the-scenes shots about the creation of each photograph.

My aim was to portray time passing, an unsaid journey through four seasons, incorporating every colour in the rainbow.

As things progressed, her costumes became more elaborate with the props and new characters often taking up to five months to create. Her three year labour of love is now almost complete and there are plans for an exhibition and accompanying book:

I just know that the day I see my mother’s name printed on the inside cover of the Wonderland book, it will feel like I have finally fulfilled my promise to myself and her precious memory.

While Nightingales Wept: a model captured running though the woods near Kirsty's homeWhile Nightingales Wept: a model captured running though the woods near Kirsty’s home in Surrey
A Floral Birth: Kirsty imagines a creature begotten from natureA Floral Birth: Kirsty imagines a creature begotten from nature
Lady of The Lake: a model emerges from a pool of lilies amidst the forestLady of The Lake: A model emerges from a pool of lilies deep within the forest
Far, Far Away: A twenties style circus performer swings from a giant treeFar, Far Away: A twenties style circus performer swings from a giant tree
Gammelyn's Daughter. the model clutches a ship to her chest amidst a heathery cushionGammelyn’s Daughter: The model clutches a ship to her chest atop a heathery cushion
The White Queen: ruling over the forest of Wonderland
The Fall of Gammelyn: a decaying forest king

The White Queen ruling over the forest of Wonderland and
The Fall of Gammelyn, a decaying forest king

The Beautiful Blindness of Devotion: eyes closed in prayer
The Briar Rose: a human rambling rose

The Beautiful Blindness of Devotion sees a painted girl with eyes closed in prayer while
The Briar Rose is a human rambling rose appearing to grow from the stonework

The Faraway Tree: ethereal ships, magically lit, appear to sprout from this tree as commanded by the queenThe Faraway Tree: ethereal ships, magically lit,
appear to sprout from this tree as if commanded by the queen
Dryad: a nymph clings to giant tree roots suspended over the river Dryad: A nymph clings to giant tree roots suspended over the river
Euphaeidae: a winged fairy princess amidst a sea of lavender Euphaeidae: A winged fairy princess amid a sea of lavender
Spirited Away: blooms stand out against a snowy forest backdrop - a promise of the spring to comeSpirited Away: Blooms stand out against a snowy forest backdrop – a promise of the spring to come
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You have to admire Kirsty’s amazing determination and dedication to produce this series… and an extraordinarily imaginative one it is too, don’t you think? You can view more of Kirsty’s work over at her website.

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