I feel very privilaged to have been given the chance to interview Kirsty, especially at the climax of her amazing Wonderland project.
This interview way a joy to read and i truly see Kirsty Mitchell getting everything she has worked so hard for :)
I hope you enjoy the interview...
1. Fill me in on your background, where are you from and how did you get in to photography?
I’ve always lived in the south of England, born in Kent and now based in Surrey. I work in East London during the week. How I got into photography is a bit of a long answer and probably too much to explain properly here. It was mainly due to a long chain of emotional events that began with me being ill with insomnia, that then spiraled when my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and sadly her death 9 months later. Picking up a camera became a kind of a therapy for me; it’s been my constant escape and is why all my pictures tend to be about dreams and make-believe. It was an alternative world to the everyday sadness I was living through at the time. Sorry that sounds so heavy for a starting question, but it’s an honest answer.
2. Who has influenced you the most in terms of photography?
To be honest I don’t look at a great deal at other photography. My two favourite photographers are very different, I love Tim Walker, and I also adore Sally Mann. When it comes to influences I am more interested in art, music, film and fashion. I worked with Alexander McQueen years ago, and he of all people has probably had the most effect on me in my life. I also think Tim Burton is a genius.
3. What is your favorite style of photography (Self-portraiture? Fashion? Documentary)?
I love many different types for so many reasons. I love to see collaborations between designers and photographers – the really extreme couture fashion shoots with incredible clothes and mind-blowing styling and props (one of my favorites was when Tim Burton and Tim Walker got together). But equally the absolute beauty and quietness of Sally Mann’s work often leaves me speechless. If you mean my work personally, then I’m split in similar ways – I love creating outrageous sets bursting with colour – but I also love extremely personal quiet moments in black and white.
4. What is your process when taking photo's, from getting ideas to editing?
I think I’d need to write you a book to answer this one! I have a very, very long process, because I make everything in my pictures. The ideas are the easy part, I have too many and I think about new ones everyday, the difficult bit is then creating the image.
Once I’m fixed on a concept I usually start with the costumes – I visit vintage fairs, boot fairs, and spend hours on eBay, to start pulling together materials and various pieces. I will then start dying / customizing and sewing together the different elements to make a design. I often add in unusual elements like pages from books, flowers, strange old trinkets and random little treasures.
Elbe van Eeden my friend and make-up artist makes the wigs, and hairpieces, but usually we just work through the outfits together doing what ever needs to be done, whether it is the clothes or the styling. Next we make the props which can take weeks, and I often have a few volunteers who come and live we me for a few weekends, and we build everything in my back garden! It’s a bizarre process, extremely tiring but it can be great fun. We have made a giant wooden cake, enormous stripy candy canes, floral umbrellas, giant eggs, and mini merry-go rounds. Everyone works so hard and I can’t believe they do it all just for the love of it, I’m very humbled by their help. Once we have everything ready we shoot, and then I am left with the editing. Although the set ups are weeks and weeks of work I usually only produce 2 – 3 pictures from a shoot.
I treat the pictures like paintings -they are supposed to be 1 off images of the scene and no more. I don’t want to saturate the idea of doing endless pictures of the same set up. So usually it’s a full frame shot and then a close up, unless it’s a very big shoot with lots of different characters like my most recent bluebell shoot.
5. What are your tools of the trade?
I use a Canon 5D mark II and 3 fixed lenses (50mm f1.4, 85mm f1.4, 28mm f1.4) – I know this is unusual, but I could only afford to buy one lens at a time and that’s how my kit ended up! I don’t use lighting, but I take natural light very seriously and really look for the best way to use it, and obviously use a reflector. One of my most invaluable bits of kit now is a stepladder! It’s become a bit of a joke, but I use it constantly on shoots. It allows me to get different views on scenes and can often give me some really interesting results. You can usually see me dragging it around running up and down it like demented squirrel on most of my shoots!
6. Where do you hope to go with your photography?
My dream is to work as an artist not a ‘photographer’ if that makes any sense. I only do what I do because it is about creating the entire finished product. Making the costumes and the props and being responsible for the entire image is the thing that I am most passionate about.
Basically I’m a frustrated painter who can’t paint very well – so this is my way of creating everything within the frame, and then the camera is the medium I record it all with. I simply want to create large beautiful fine art prints for a living, and be able to do it comfortably. I am aiming to produce a book of my current project ‘Wonderland’ before the end of the year, and hope to exhibit somewhere special.
7. Why do you think people are drawn to fashion photography and editorials?
I think fashion photography can appear glamorous to a lot of younger people, and is one of the cooler sides to earning a living as a photographer. At a high-end level it is probably one of the most creatively rewarding genres to be in as well. There are many ways to collaborate with designers, stylists and the music industry, it’s understandably attractive
8. On your Flickr it seems like you focus on one shot at a time, do you do series and not put them up or do you prefer to focus on one fashion shot at a time?
The pictures on my flickr are all part of the Wonderland project which is one enormous series that has been running for a year now. The shoots are all part of creating a giant storybook of full of unexplained characters, so none of them are fashion shoots really. Each picture is intended as a 1off special piece.
9. Who are some other fashion photographers you admire?
Tim Walker, Chadwick Tyler and lot of others whose names I can’t remember but I know their styles by heart!
10. What is your best tip to taking a striking fashion portrait?
To be honest I don’t think I’m much of a real ‘fashion’ photographer. When I use models I often tell them to stop posing because it looks false. I’m more interested in emotion or intensity. I like wildness; I like messed up hair and beautiful strong eyes. I often do things to make models look unprepared, like tilt their heads down and then shoot continuously until they are facing the camera again – you get a more natural look. I don’t really like pouting.
11. Your photos seem to incorporate your surroundings and the elements, is this a big part of your style?
Absolutely. I don’t shoot in studios at all, I never have done. I am only interested in shooting outdoors and in beautiful landscapes. Nature is my primal focus and all I am interested in; it really is a hugely important element to me.
13. What is your favourite fashion shot you have taken? (Link and describe why)
I have lots of favourites that aren’t so ‘fashiony’… but the one that is the most popular with everyone is the lavender princess picture from the Wonderland series (no 4) It was just a very special moment after a lot of worry and stress, just as I felt everything was going wrong on a shoot, when suddenly everything went right! The wind picked up and filled the skirts of this enormous dress, just as we had lit the smoke bombs on top of the umbrella – the model pulled this incredible pose that made her look like she was holding onto the umbrella for dear life. It was unexpected and dramatic, and really was incredible to be in front of, I’ll never forget that one.
14. What are some of your favourite films, books and musicians?
Music – Colleen ‘the golden morning breaks, Epic45 ‘ May your heart be the map and most recently I’ve just discovered the two groups ‘Message to Bears’ and ‘Library tapes’ …. Oh and of course Radiohead ‘Inrainbows’ Music is really important to me and I like I’ve loads of different types, but when it comes to editing or just day dreaming out the train window… I need beautiful strange electronic classical stuff that takes you to another place.
Films – Into the wild, The eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, Atonement, The Piano, Fight club, House of Flying Daggers
Books – The lovely bones, Wild Swans, A Million Tiny Pieces…. Most books by Chuk Palahnick
15. What has been your biggest achievement so far with your photography?
Personally finally getting the confidence to work with models and people taking me seriously. On paper – getting a 24 page editorial in LA fashion mag ‘Cliché’
16. Do you think it’s hard to be original in fashion? How do you keep your ideas original and fresh?
My ideas are just what comes to me next, I don’t try to be original, I just do what feels right to me and what I want to spend my time working on really. I never think about how people will see my work as such, its just ‘stuff’ I need to get out of my system.
17. Which fashion photographer do you think I should interview next and why?
Rossina Bossio because she is an artist, a real one. She is a brilliant painter and photographer and loves fashion…. but does her own thing with it. She isn’t trying to be anyone other than herself, and has all the unique influences of painting, religion and politics all squashed together. I respect her immensely and find everything she does is exciting and fresh
18. Do you often change a lot of the original photo in photoshop?
I spent a lot of time editing, I take it extremely seriously. Mainly because I imagine all my pictures being printed very big – so I literally go through the shots with a fine tooth comb, checking every single pixel like a total nerd! I use photoshop, but never to create things that aren’t there. That’s why I spend so long on making the props and the costumes – I don’t like super imposed fake effects, but I’m certainly not a purist. I think Photoshop helps create the atmosphere you want, and shouldn’t be sneered at.
19. Do you think you have an original style that is you own?
I think so; I guess that’s up to other people. I care about what I do and I really treasure the finished pictures, I’m certainly not trying to be anything other than myself.
20. What gave you the idea of doing the Wonderland project?
My mother dying. Wonderland is a tribute to her and the stories she read to me as a child. She was an English teacher and read to me everyday until I was about 15. I wanted to focus on something beautiful, that celebrated the magic and imagination she shared. She always loved books, and so my goal is to create the most precious book I can, and dedicate it to her memory on the opening page. Wonderland has brought me some of the most amazing experiences I have ever had, in what has been the most difficult time in my life. It’s a strange combination that has been far more emotional than anything else I have ever worked on in my life. Its deeply important to me, as are the friends I made that now work on it with me
21. What gives you the strength to follow through and keep going when everything feels so hard?
The dream of being able to do this properly, and selling my work.
22. Give us the skinny, what's the next big project you've got coming up?
Wonderland is an enormous undertaking really and the main focus is finishing it by the end of the summer, then the book, and then a proper full exhibition (fingers crossed). I have lots of ideas that fizz around my head all the time for different things, but I’m trying my hardest to stay focused and follow through with this project first.
I do however want to do something completely different and go back to more spontaneous, natural photography as a breather. More like the pictures from the ‘My Angel’ set. So no props or costumes…… more emotional, raw, and natural. I never want to lose sight of why I started all of this, photography for me is not superficial… there is great depth to how somebody can be captured, and I am forever fascinated and captivated by this.
23. Which actor would play you in the film of your life?
Danny Devito ? ;S !!
24. What did you want to grow up to be when you were a kid?
An archeologist, an actress, and funnily enough as a teenager a photographer. I ended up being a fashion designer, and now I’m regressing again!!
Thank you so much Kirsty for the interview :)
See the (almost) complete Wonderland project on Kirsty's Flickr here
See her website here
And finally her blog which has amazing posts on all of her behind the scenes here