Childhood is an adventure; a whimsically frightening maze through fields of glowing neon-green fauna and deep, daunting dungeons. Or at least that's how it can seem. Attempt to visualize your youth in the most romantic way your mind can muster. Envision how those racing emotions and that sense of adventure would have looked if painted or photographed. Such is the awe-inspiring catalog of imagination, imagery, and childhood wonder created by 10-year-old Alice Lewis with the help of her mother, photographer Kelly Lewis.
Kelly and her husband James adopted Alice in 2012 when she was 7 years old. As one of their earliest forms of bonding, the new mother-daughter tandem started taking photos inspired by the little girl's imaginative play. Alice, who was named Destiny before she decided to change her first name after the adoption, had been in foster care prior to joining her new family. She was complex and fragile, but she expressed herself openly as the pair planned their shoots.
According to Kelly, Alice's mental escape from a troubled past was always driven by her own imagination. This strong creative drive became inspiration for both mother and child when they photographed their first cosplay of Alice dressed as Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz."
"Two weeks after she moved in with us we passed a dress while shopping, and Alice commented on how it looked like a Dorothy dress. I suggested that we do a photoshoot, and she was totally up for it," Kelly said. "It was the first time she'd really posed for my camera as a model, and it was amazing."
From there, the two have been on an absolute roll. Creating stylized scene after scene is not only a memento of Alice's childhood, but serves as art therapy for a little girl whose life had previously been burdened with so much change.
"Playing make-believe is how she's coped with all of the negative things she's lived through. It's just a natural part of her being now and cosplaying gives her a creative outlet to express herself and be whoever she wants to be," said Kelly.
The themes of the images range from generally upbeat to downright sinister, or even dark and desperate. Kelly recognizes that not everyone will understand the tone of every photograph. Yet, she's willing to take the scorn that has come as some of the collection's darker photos have been shared online.
"If one child gets adopted because someone read Alice's story, then every hateful letter and death threat is worth it," she said.
"There's not a one-size-fits-all type of parenting when you're dealing with a child that has experienced multiple foster homes, homelessness, [and] neglect," she said. "I refuse to make her act like other little girls — she knows too much of the real world and she can't forget what she's seen. It is why she so often chooses to live in a fantasy of her own."
Regardless of how you perceive the content of the photos, it's hard to deny the amazing artistic relationship that this mother and daughter now enjoy. The emotion present in each shoot is palatable, and seeing a child embody such open expressions of joy, fear, anger, heroism, and family is an art in and of itself. Even when the image is scary, there is no doubt that love abounds with the creators.
Check out more from the "Malice of Alice" collection below, but be sure to see the entire collection at Alice's website.