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Photographer Kirsty Mitchell’s acclaimed series comes to the Fort Wayne Museum of Art
By Eddie Torres
Fort Wayne Reader
In the summer of 2009, Kirsty Mitchell, an award-winning fine art photographer from Surrey, England, began a project to pay tribute to her late mother Maureen, who had died of a brain tumor the year before. “The only way I could deal with it was [through] photography,” Mitchell has said. “It was this absolute rage that went through me and I threw myself into something obsessively. I started taking hundreds of photographs constantly, to lose myself in something other than what I was dealing with.”
Inspired by her mother’s passion for fairy tales and literature, Mitchell handcrafted elaborate costumes and props to compose and then photograph astonishingly beautiful, fantastical scenes in the lush English landscape surrounding her home. She collaborated with models and hair and make-up artist Elbie Van Eeden to bring her story’s characters to life. Mitchell calls herself “an artist with a camera,” rather than a photographer, as a single image may take up to several months to create before releasing the shutter. “I always see my photographs as fully resolved images in my head directly from the start, like dreams really,” Mitchell told Nikon Nation. “I rarely sketch anything because it is so clear to me, so usually I just set about trying to work backwards and do everything within my power to recreate it in real life. My pictures are real life scenes, and so working with nature can be both wonderful and stressful, but ultimately incredibly rewarding.”
Within months of the series’ inception, Wonderland quickly gained a world-wide following as viewers became connected to the artworks and the intense emotions that inspired them. What had started as a small summer project in Mitchell’s kitchen in 2009 evolved into a life-changing journey filled with extraordinary theatrical characters and bursting with all the colors of the passing English seasons. “A lot of people ask me how to be famous,” Mitchell said. “I find it an odd concept really because I didn’t do anything other than produce the work. People connect with them in very intense ways because of the emotional content in them and the story behind it.”
Over six years and 74 photographs later, Mitchell’s project culminated in the extraordinary book Wonderland, which documents all seventy-four photographs in the collection and is now in its second edition. Mitchell decided to publish the book herself, and launched a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter in September of 2015. She met her goal of £70,000 (about $106,000) in a matter of hours.
The project is also the subject of a documentary, and a series of behind-the-scenes videos highlighting all the meticulous work involved in the production of various photographs.
The traveling exhibition at the FWMoA — the first traveling exhibition of Wonderland in the US — features many of the series large-scale photographs as well as the films documenting the artist’s creative process.
Wonderland opens at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art on June 2 and runs through September 2.