Kirsty Mitchell talks about her surreal photography: 'this bizarre Russian doll, surrounded by vivid flowers in a completely wild and barren snowscape...'
is one of the fashion photographers I truly admired ever since I first saw her works. The photos are dramatic, magical, surreal and at the same time, each photo does have a story behind it. Now, let’s read this interview below and enter be prepared to enter her magical world. M: Hello Kirsty, it’s amazing I can finally do an interview with the fashion photographer I truly admired and I am so excited about it! I am sure many of us will want to know, what made you want to become a photographer? How does your fashion knowledge benefit your photo shoots?
K: To be honest photography found me. I had no conscious plan to enter into
it since I was working as a fashion designer and had been doing so happily for
over 8 years. Photography came into my life after I had been very ill, and had
been on heavy medication for more than 4 months. After coming off the treatment
it was almost as if my senses returned to a higher state of awareness than I
could previously remember. Its hard to explain, but after being numbed by the
drugs for so long I suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to record everything
around me, like I was seeing the world for the first time with fresh eyes. It
started with a little point and shoot camera I kept in my handbag, and I just
took pictures of people on the train on my way to work. My hobby began to spiral
into an obsession, until I was taking hundreds of photos a month. Just as I was
finding my feet with it all, my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and my
pictures became my therapy all over again. This time I photographed myself as a
way of expressing the emotions I was going through when I could no longer talk
about how I felt. I began to create a little alternative world I would run away
to, dressing up and hiding from reality became my sanctuary until she finally
passed away in November 2008.
The pictures snowballed from there, I guess I poured myself into it all because I preferred living inside their fantasy, compared to my real life grief. It all sounds quite tragic, and it was, but at the same time it unlocked the door to an entirely new world for me, one which I was completely unprepared for how much it was going to effect my life. Regarding my background in fashion, I would say that the benefits have been huge. The ideas I have are often the extensions of what I am most passionate about in fashion. Like a lot of designers I will work to a brief for a commercial customer, but my head is always full of extravagant Couture creations. The things I could never do in my ‘day job’ I found I could create for my pictures. It didn’t matter if the costumes would fall apart afterwards, or were glued together; this was a way for me to finally produce my hearts desire without any restrictions. I was able to push the ideas to the absolute limit without holding anything back; it’s a total indulgence, and one which I relish greatly. I also trained in costume for film and theatre before I studied fashion, so these various backgrounds have equipped me with the skills to physically make what I need, and work independently of stylists and designers, so yes my fashion background has been invaluable. M: I am glad photography has become your remedy to fight against your sadness and thank you so much for letting us to see your vision of fantasy land. So, what adjectives will best describe your photography style?
K: Magical seems to be one of the most common words people use and I’m more than happy about that. I always try to write a blog entry about each picture I take, so the viewer understands the set up wasn’t faked in any way. The behind the scenes pictures have become very popular, as most people didn’t realize I made everything myself, and if a girl is 8ft tall in a picture it's because she really was stuck up a ladder, or was on stilts! The coloured smoke is real, and so are the landscapes…..It’s a lot of effort to turn a dream into reality – so if people find it believable and can lose themselves in the image, that’s the absolute best I could possibly hope for. Other words I suppose would be ‘surreal’ ‘emotional’ ‘delicate’ and maybe ‘saturated’ in terms of some of the Wonderland series. Saturated could relate to the overpowering colour, but also to the amount of detail in the scenes. Since printing my images I’ve learnt to stop taking such close up shots - what looks good on a laptop compared to a wall is very different. I like to treat the pictures like a painting and consider the whole space, the landscape, the props, the vegetation, the more the better!
M: Surreal is definitely one of the words I can think of when looking at your photos. I know one of your person projects is called "Wonderland", would you mind telling readers how you started this project?
K: Well I suppose I’ve already explained half the story with the first
question, but anyone who follows my work closely knows that Wonderland is a very
personal project in the memory of my mother. She was an English teacher and read
to me almost everyday for many years. Some my most precious memories are of how
it felt when I lay with my head on her chest when she read from my favorite
storybooks. I can remember the illustrations vividly, the voices she created for
each character…. the warmth of her skin. I had spent too long being a wreck in
front of, or behind the camera and so when she died I felt I wanted to produce a
body of work that would celebrate her, and the gift of imagination that she gave
me. I wanted to create a beautiful, magical storybook without words – a place
for people to let themselves be carried away. Something that I could cherish,
and hopefully others would too, a book dedicated to the person she was at her
best, not the one I lost. When we started shooting I had no idea it was going to
become as big as it did. Every few months we talked about how things would end,
but the project just kept on growing, there were too many ideas, too many
colours, too many wonderful memories so we simply carried on. Slowly others
discovered what we were doing, and more and more people began to share the shots
on the Internet, until it has now been blogged in so many countries that I’ve
lost count. Its even been on the Chinese world news website! In total the
project has been running for 20 months. I’m currently planning the final
pictures of the series and aim to finish shooting before the start of the
summer. After that my focus will be producing the book and the exhibition, its
been an enormous journey, but worth every minute.
M: The effort you put in this Wonderland is totally worth it and I cannot wait for the release of the book! Other than the Wonderland project, I know you have done a few more series and the photos are very stunning too. Well, out of all the shoots and projects you have done so far, which one was the most memorable? Why?
K: This is such a difficult question to answer as there are several that were extremely special for me. So many of the shoots have been quite emotional, as it is often the same small group of friends working together. We all share an understanding of each other, and the underlying root of who we are producing it fo. We’ve experienced shoots in complete isolation in deep snow, immersed ourselves in abandoned lakes at sunset, and witnessed the dawn in the woods together; there are so many memories. But I guess the most precious, was the day I took the picture of my friend and Wonderland make-up artist Elbie Van Eeden in the snow for ‘Wonderland 21’. It was a turning point in our friendship, and has become one of the most popular pictures in the series. It was just the two of us, no one else was there. The UK had a sudden freak snowstorm, and we decided to try and make a picture for Wonderland on our own as nobody could get through the bad weather to my house. We made the costume out of things l had lying around, and then we simply trekked out into the countryside with a couple of backpacks full of powdered paint and sandwiches! We spent hours trying to find the right place until we discovered the single tree at the foot of a hillside. The snow was up to our knees, and it was completely silent. It was such an extraordinary scene to witness – this bizarre Russian doll, surrounded by vivid flowers in a completely wild and barren snowscape. I’ll never forget that day, or the adrenaline that went through me taking the picture – it is full of love for her, and our friendship. She was so worried about not being a ‘real model’, and I’m so thrilled that it had such a huge reaction. I find beauty a deeply spiritual thing, and personally this picture encapsulates that for me.
M: That photo is a stunning one and believe it or not, it actually caught my eyes the most when I first looked at your Wonderland series! Now, let’s talk about fashion. If you could pick any Dolce and Gabbana collection for your Wonderland shoot, which collection do you think will best fit for your project?
K: Oh that’s an easy question! I have always loved the huge painterly floral gowns from the S/S 2008 ready to wear collection. I’ve seen them photographed in many different ways and I love the energy and colours in the prints, they are an absolute feast for the eyes. I adore the huge romantic skirts and translucent layers, and most of all the free-hand style of the painted flowers. They would be perfect for Wonderland, and would look incredible in the type of landscapes I use. I use paint quite a lot in the series, and would probably involve this as body make-up to blend with the prints…. So yes lots of scope to work with in that collection!