This incredible fairytale image, "The Queen's Armada," is a labor of love. Specifically, the love of a daughter for her mother, who died of cancer. Artist Kirsty Mitchell has been creating her own fairy-tale images, under the title "Wonderland," for three years, in the memory of her mother.
Mitchell shares some of her images with us, and explains the process of creating these beautiful, delicate artworks. Here's her explanation for "The Queen's Armada":
I designed and made the costume, props and steel ships. The dress was made from 240 hand painted wooden fans. Everything is real including the smoke. And took 5 months to create everything for the shoot.
Mitchell's artist statement reads:
‘Wonderland' began in July 2009, as a small summer project in memory of my mother Maureen whom I lost to cancer 7 months before. She was an English teacher who spent a lifetime inspiring myself, and generations of children with her captivating stories and plays. She was my best friend, and so escapism through my camera quickly became the only way to deal with the reality of my loss. Nothing prepared me for the enormous personal journey that followed, as the project spiralled into a 3-year adventure, leading me to leave my 10-year career as a fashion designer, to commit my future to producing the book and exhibition of the series. The project has been created out of nothing, and is the result of relentless hard work, in which almost everything within the frame has been made or designed by myself with the help of the hair and make-up artist Elbie Van Eeden and the occasional kindness of friends. There are no large support teams, designers or stylists involved, and nothing has been commissioned. The characters and their worlds are the blurred hybrids of the stories and book illustrations from my childhood memories with my mother. Nothing is a direct recreation of a particular tale, and the title ‘Wonderland,' was purely to express a girl's escapism through the pages of her book – something that echoed my personal situation in real life.
Despite initial impressions, my work is not the result of multiple digital composites and Photoshop special effects. It is for this reason that my work sits between the lines of traditional photography and digital artistry as all the elements including their locations and colours are real, made by hand, and true scale. The pictures are polished with retouching, and in a few exceptions I add small manipulations to suggest a sense of magic, but that is all. My focus is to create ‘fantasy for real' using anything from smoke bombs glued to umbrellas, to painting trees and making giantesses out of models balancing in 8ft dresses. I push myself to create whatever is necessary to bring the illusions to life, and then document the process in my online ‘Diary'
The support for the project from around the world has been overwhelming and at times deeply moving. I never imagined anyone to understand the emotion I felt behind the camera, yet I continue to receive letters from people from all walks of life who feel connected with its sentiment and find beauty with the frame.
The series is now in its final stages with its completion planned for the end of the summer 2012. There are currently 60 pieces in the collection.
"Gammelyn's Daughter" — a waking dream.
Gammelyn's Daughter — shot in a vast field of heather from the top of a ladder. The dress was designed by me, the image was barely retouched, it is currently the most popular shot in the series.
Dryad – One of the first images shot for the series. Taken just after the dawn whilst I was standing in the steam (freezing!). The tree was painted with non-toxic powder paint, and the costume was designed and made by myself.
Lady of the Lake – one of the happiest moments of my life. Shot in a lake up to my neck in stinking water at 7.30pm just before the sunset. The image was barely retouched; it was just a magical moment I'll never forget.
The Faraway Tree - One of the hardest shoots I have ever done. The ships are real and they were in the tree! Everyone thinks this is a Photoshop collage, but it wasn't, and it was really hard work! It took 5 hours to set everything up, everything you see was in front of the camera when I took the picture.
The Distant Pull of Remembrance — Wings made by me, shot just after the dawn, its a really simple but very poignant photo for me.
The Storyteller — Entire costume designed and made by me. The headdress is covered in fresh bluebells and the books are all real and over 120 years old, they are not cloned in Photoshop. I waited 12 months to take the picture, as these flowers only appear for a couple of weeks a year.
The Lavender Princess – probably the most famous image in the series and actually the very first picture I took. Dress designed by me, smoke is real and was created by fixing a smoke bomb being tied to the flower parasol.
The Briar Rose - costume designed by me, shot in the rain on a very cold dark January day. The model was up a ladder for over an hour poor thing, smoke is real.
Spirited away – shot in a snowstorm, the model is actually my friend the Wonderland hair and make-up artist Elbie Van Eeden. Flower umbrella made by me, the trail in the snow was powder paint.
The White Queen. Headdress, necklace, key prop and lace nails all made by me.