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.
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.
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.
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 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.
The White Queen ruling over the forest of Wonderland and
The Fall of Gammelyn, a decaying forest king
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
appear to sprout from this tree as if commanded by the queen
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.