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Nikon Nation Kirsty Mitchell Interview

Kirsty Mitchell is a fine art photographer that has created some stunning works of art with the Nikon D800. We find out more.

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Kitsty Mitchell self portrait

You create the most lovely props for your wonderland collection. Can you tell us a bit about how you conceive your ideas and bring them to life?
Yes of course, basically before I became a full time artist, I trained in costume for film and theatre at the London College of Fashion, and then went on to study a further 3-year degree in fashion design at Ravensbourne School of Art.

I worked as a fashion designer for 11 years and so making and developing ornamental things for the body has always been at the heart of what I do, as well as having a strong passion for colour. My photographic series ‘Wonderland’ and career as a fine art photographer has been a natural progression of all the things I love. I have found a way to express myself fully in creating costumes and props often involving natural elements and then capturing them out in the English landscape at its most beautiful / extreme times of year.

The series has been a 4 year epic journey to create over 70 photographs in memory of my mother who passed away in 2008, and my concepts are mainly inspired by the fragments of the stories and book illustrations she read to me as a child. It can take weeks, sometimes even up to 5 months to design and create everything for one picture, and this is all done by myself. This part of the process I greatly enjoy and is very personal to me, but equally one I feel many people could enjoy attempting themselves as it is amazing what you can create on a low budget, with the contents of the local DIY store!

I always see my photographs as fully resolved images in my head directly from the start, like dreams really. 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.

For example if I am creating a costume like the leaf cloak from The Guidance of Stray Souls, I can only begin work 2 days in advance otherwise anything natural simply dries out and dies. However I often use artificial flowers to create my more complicated pieces. I often use simple raw materials, paper, glue, papier-mache and chicken wire, found objects and lots and lots of spray paint!

A game of tag
'A Game of tag' by Kirsty Mitchell

Was there a particular reason you chose Nikon gear?
Yes, for me the D800E has been an invaluable upgrade. My work is sold in galleries and the demand for large pieces amongst collectors is high. My previous camera had reached its absolute limit at printing around 140cm wide and I was contemplating moving towards medium format. Obviously this brings a much higher price tag but also medium format is not entirely suitable to the situations I shoot in either.

The freedom a DSLR gives me is vital when I am out in the landscape working in difficult conditions like bog land, water, the snow etc. So it has been fantastic to continue working in the way I’m used to, with the benefits of the far superior resolution of the D800E. I have been shooting the final scenes of my Wonderland series with it over the last few months and I’m thrilled with the results – especially as I feel these are some of my best pictures, so I’m excited to print these works bigger than I have ever done before. I’m enjoying the camera, it has given me the results I thought would only be possible by changing formats. On another level the dynamic range is also superb.

The Ghost Swift
'The Ghost Swift' by Kirsty Mitchell

Tell us a bit about the kit you use.
My current kit is a Nikon D800E with the following lenses  - 24mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4, 24-70mm f/2.8 and a 14-24mm f2.8.

I tend to shoot in two different ways, either very large static outdoor scenes using a prime 24 mm on a tripod for sharpness. Or the other side to my work is portraiture for which I tend to use a 85mm or 50mm. I usually use primes, because of the scale I print my work at I want to achieve the highest level of clarity possible. Although having said this the performance of the 24-70mm and the 14-20mm is fantastic anyway. I especially like the 14-20mm.

The guidance of stray souls
'The Guidance of Stray Souls' by Kirsty Mitchell

How and why did you become a Nikon ambassador?
It all started back in march of this year when I was awarded 'Best Conceptual Photographer of 2012' in Las Vegas by the US [Framed] network. I just flew over for 2 days to attend the award night and had no idea that there was a huge photography convention (WPPI) happening at the same time. So on my second day in Vegas I went to the event and was introduced to many of the major exhibitors including the head of Nikon US and Nikon CA who were really interested in my Wonderland series and talked to me about the D800E and how the high resolution could help me achieve the results I was after.

After I returned to the UK as a result of my conversations in Vegas I was linked up with Nikon UK and then finally met the team in person a few months ago. I started trying out the D800E and consequently loved it and used if for a big Wonderland shoot which the BBC news came and filmed, and things really just escalated from there. It was a complete surprise when Nikon approached me for the role, I was extremely honoured to learn they created the Fine Art Ambassadorship specifically for me after seeing my work, but was also quiet proud to learn I am also the first female photographer in the program too.

The Queen's Armada
'The Queen's Armada' by Kirsty Mitchell

Do you have any tips for photographers looking to move into more fine art style work?
I think the hardest lesson for myself was to dedicate time and patience to my work. We live in an internet culture that seems to demand work from photographers constantly, yet at the same time almost makes it feel disposable with the short attention spans and ‘like’ culture we have all become a part of.

When approaching my pieces I have deliberately tried to turn my back on this, and return to ‘craft’ in what I do. I want to labor over something with depth and meaning, and make it the very best I possibly can. I’ve found waiting for the seasons to change, being out at the dawn, the anticipation for wild flowers to bloom, its all part of the experience for me and is deeply personal. I feel you cannot produce anything credible, unless you really look deep into yourself and create work with passion and emotion. I feel that when a collector invests in a piece they want to be taken on a journey with the work, to believe in it and the artist. Buying art can be extremely rewarding and satisfying when it feels precious.  So I suppose dedication to what you are doing, pushing yourself to the very best you can be and not compromising is the best advice I could give.

Step out of your comfort zone and experience new things; don’t be frightened to try bigger ideas by a lack of experience. For me almost every new picture I created for Wonderland was exhausting and scary at times, I tried all sorts of ideas from shooting an entire set on water, to hoisting huge steel props into trees. I never knew what the results would be, but the hunger to achieve my idea always drove me to it. Be your own hardest critic and then hopefully when you create something you feel fulfills you, others will pay attention.

For more information on Kirsty and her work, take a look at her website

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JackAllTog Plus
13 6.4k 58 United Kingdom
14 Aug 2013 10:38AM
Thanks for this super article, its very interesting to see that you spend the time you do creating the images, from the props, scenes and costumes and that though it takes ages to prepare for a picture the result is then amazing. Its an interesting dilemma between quantity and quality. Interesting point about the 800e choice too.

Thanks for sharing,

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