Kirsty Michell is one of the top emerging photo and fashion talents on our planet today. Her work is both stunning and beautiful, while her relentless drive to produce stunning photographs is nothing less than inspiring. It’s one thing to be a great photographer, but Mitchell also excels as a fashion designer (with a nod recently from Italian Vogue). Every photo and design has been conceptualized and built from the ground up by Mitchell and a small group of close friends. We caught up with Kirsty recently to discuss her recent “Wonderland” creations, how things have changed, and where she’s headed.
It’s been almost two years since we posted our last interview with you on Warholian. In that time, how has your series Wonderland evolved, and has there been any evolution to you as a photographer? Have you learned anything new about the work you are producing?
KM: Wonderland has evolved enormously for me, when I first began in 2009 I had no idea the project would develop the way it has, or go on to span 2.5 years. The response has been utterly overwhelming and has literally changed my life. I finally gave up my career as a fashion designer at the end of last year to dedicate my future to the success of the project, focusing on producing the book and exhibition. Originally I was just creating dream after dream, with no links between the pictures, and producing them with very little budget. I felt very pressured to be creating works quickly to keep up with my contemporaries even though I had to create everything within the frame by hand myself. Last year I had a discussion with an art curator who advised me to step back from the Internet and take some time away to work privately on the series. To invest my time and money into creating works that were an entirely believable vision from start to finish, on a scale far bigger than I had previously produced. In short, to produce less, but make the content ‘more’, so that has been my focus. I have been away for 9 months and have worked relentlessly on producing the very best I can. I have invested far more into the budget of the pictures and tackled props I would never have previously imagined I could make (for example ‘The White Queen’s’ steel galleon ships). It’s the first time I have worked with an industrial manufacturer to make an idea and it was extremely rewarding to do so. I have also spent far more time on the creation of the characters. I was getting quite frustrated with being called a ‘fashion photographer’ when I have never done a fashion shoot in my life. I suppose I can see that some of the previous wonderland images can be misconstrued as fashion, and that was something I wanted to completely avoid going forwards. People always assume the effects in my work are Photoshoped, the clothes and styling are other people’s work, and that there is a massive team behind the images. So I wanted to make sure with the new images that the characters were fully realized as magical beings, with more elaborate costumes, in even more beautiful surroundings. I have been very thorough in my blog entries to show and explain how the costumes and shoots were created, so there can be no misunderstanding about things being ‘faked’ or hired from other creative’s. The point of my art is that I make everything in the image, and I really hope that message is coming across clearer now. With regards to shooting, I have just tried to be as prepared as possible, constantly visiting the shoot locations on the run up to the day, trying to be as aware as I can be of the surroundings as possible. Now the productions are even bigger I cannot be unprepared, some of the costumes and props have taken months to create, rather than days or weeks like before.
We’ve heard that you’ve recently decided to focus full time on your photography work, how has the transition been for you?
KM: Well it has literally only just happened, so all I can say is it going to improve my health! Looking back at what I have created in the last year considering I was working at the same time is pretty amazing to me now. Its been a very hard few years, but doing this has changed my life, and having walked away from a successful career in fashion I am now excited and determined to pursue my future as an artist. I have had to delay so many things because I could never cope with writing interviews and doing the press side as well as working on the series. So getting a balance, securing the book deal for the project and producing the exhibition this year are my priorities. Being able to commit wholly to this is something I have been working towards for a long time.
Can you tell us any teasers regarding the future of Wonderland, and where you intend to take the series?
KM: Well I have just released the first 3 of 20 new images. The entire series is now shot apart from the final closing scenes, which I expect to finish in the spring. As I have already mentioned the characters are more formed, detailed and have a purpose unlike some of the earlier ones. I have been slowly weaving an underlying motif of galleon ships reappearing in different forms throughout the series, there are reasons for everything, nothing is purely aesthetic. Important props are being slowly added like the Key in the hands of ‘The White Queen’ …… all I can say is the series will not just ‘stop’, there is a very clear ending and story that is slowly building even If you haven’t noticed it yet 😉
If you had the money to do anything with your work, what would it be?
KM: Invest into the vision! I had my first small taste of this whilst producing the new ‘White Queen’ images. Purely because by accident I found myself in a situation where I was forced to invest a great deal of money into the production of the steel galleon ships. At the time it was terrifying to me, but now that it’s done and shot, the response from the public has been absolutely overwhelming. I’m thrilled with the results as it really brought my vision to life without any compromises, so I suppose the main thing would be to spend much more on the development of the props and costumes. I still don’t believe buying thousands of pounds worth of camera equipment makes you or your pictures better, and its something that annoys the hell out of me when I speak to very ‘techy’ photographers. I only have one camera, (which is a very good one) and 3 lenses. I could do with more equipment and that will come with time, but my advice is to invest in your eye and your personal vision, see things, experience more, and open up to your passions, not what others tell you to do. I would also like to travel with my little team to more far reaching locations and be able to spend a week on set rather than a few frantic hours. Natural light is one of the most magical elements in a picture and sometimes you just cant guarantee you are going to get what you need – so I would buy myself some time to achieve that. Oh and I’d spend it on some lessons in using fiberglass and welding! I really want to gain more skills, and have a massive workshop to make far bigger elaborate props !! =)
– interview by Michael Cuffe for Warholian
Read more on Kirsty, and visit her official site here: http://www.kirstymitchellphotography.com/
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