Sink into a verdant and mysterious fairy-tale world full of otherworldly creatures, exaggerated nature, and ornate costuming in Kirsty Mitchell’s Wonderland photography series: a beautiful vision born in the aftermath of tragedy. Mitchell was a fashion designer in 2008 when the loss of her mother to cancer turned her world upside down, prompting her to retreat into a fantasy universe of her own creation. Little did she know that what started as a small personal project would change the course of her life forever.
“In the months that followed real life became a difficult place to deal with, as I found myself retreating further into an alternative existence through the portal of my camera,” she explains. “This escapism grew into the idea of creating a storybook without words, dedicated to her, that would echo fragments of the fairy tales she had read constantly to me as a child.”
“Originally it began as a small summer project, but none of us could have predicted the path that lay ahead and the very special friendships it would produce. From the moment I met hair and makeup artist Elbie Van Eeden there was a sense of something deeper. We became extremely close and the series blossomed into our own private playground within the ancient woodlands that surrounded my home.”
Each photograph in the Wonderland series evokes a memory of Kirsty’s mother. She says she was “driven by the need to produce tangible pieces of [her] dreams,” crafting everything from cascades of paper butterflies and hydrangea blossoms to futuristic spins on Elizabethan collars. The series follows lead model Katie Hardwick, whom Kirsty says became a mirror for her own emotions. Each of the character’s concepts could take up to five months to hand-craft. Eventually, Kirsty gave up her fashion career to focus exclusively on this immensely personal project, leading to features in Vogue Italia, Harper’s Bazaar, The Royal Photographic Society, and more. In 2018, the entire collection debuted as a major museum show at Fotografiska in Stockholm.
Just as fascinating as the photographs themselves are the behind-the-scenes records documenting Wonderland’s creation. Mitchell’s exhaustive website documents each of the photo shoots on video, and it also gives viewers the chance to see the intricacies of the costumes and props in isolated close-up shots. Mitchell also kept diaries through the planning and shooting of each photograph.
“So this has been a bittersweet tale to tell, ten years ago my world had ended, I had never felt so lost, numb, and alone. Yet what was the worst thing to have ever happened to me somehow bloomed into something extraordinary that I may never have known in another life. I’ve learned that grief can take you down in the most monumental way, but it can equally lead you along a path you never expected. This is something I try to hold on to every day, especially since my own cancer diagnosis after the birth of my first child in 2015. I’ve learned to embrace what we have thrown at us, to try to take the sadness and fear and make something meaningful and beautiful in its place.”
Want more? In addition to the wealth of photos and information to be found on her website, Mitchell has released a book of Wonderland’s photographs, so you can hold the images in your hands and share them with friends and family. Individual prints are also available.