By Hannah Schenker
You are about to encounter some of the most incredible photographs you likely have ever seen. Kirsty Mitchell’s remarkable photo series, entitled Wonderland, is full of magic and whimsy. But – just like in fairytales – you can sense a darkness or melancholy that takes each piece into deeper realms. This is because this series was born out of grief: the death of her mother Maureen after a sudden brain tumour in 2008. Since this series was completed, Mitchell has welcomed her own child into the world, gone through cancer treatment and is now into a second edition of a book about this wondrous work.
The shock of the loss of her mother, her “best friend”, is what spurred Mitchell into this new direction in her work, taking her from work in fashion design to spending months creating just one photograph. Her mother’s sudden death in France, where she had only recently retired, meant Mitchell returned to her home in the UK completely bereft, without anywhere to visit her mother. To block the surging memories of those last days in the hospital, Mitchell turned her reminiscing back to her childhood. A childhood in which her mother would read to her wonderfully illustrated old editions of European folklore – which left indelible memories in her mind and heart of the connection forged. She began to trace these old books and pore over their illustrations again, seeing them as art in their own right. Looking at them was like a direct connection to her mother, so to celebrate what her mother most cared about, “telling a story through words and art”, she began her project. She turned her hobby of photography into her full-time occupation, finding catharsis in losing herself in the creation of each photograph, each story. Drawing on her skills as a fashion designer, Mitchell started recreating the visions over the next five years, visions that came to her, fully formed.
“When I first started sharing the photos online, it was a real battle to convince people they were real,” Mitchell told The Telegraph. “Everyone thought they’d been faked with a computer. They all cried: ‘Photoshop!’
“They didn’t think anyone could be stupid enough to spend 5 months on each photograph as I often do.
“Sometimes it takes longer even than that.
“I once stumbled on the most jaw-dropping location – a bluebell wood. But of course bluebells disappear in two weeks. We waited an entire year to go back.”