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A Dark Vision

By Alyssa Coppelman

With her series Family Stories...or Down the Rabbit Hole, Angela Casagrande has created a haunting hybrid of original and found photographs. The resulting work resonates with a dark, otherworldly mood.

The project came about somewhat by chance. Casagrande had been working with cyanotypes in an attempt to illustrate paranormal experiences she’d had as a child. The images weren’t turning out as she’d envisioned, so she started tinkering in Adobe Photoshop until a new thread emerged.

For the series, Casagrande tapped into stories both fictional and familial. “It’s the usual mythology you find in every family,” she says. “Stories like, ‘Baby Face Nelson hid out in our house one night.’ Allegedly. My grandfather dropped this story out of nowhere one night.” She used only one photograph of an actual family member in the work—the rest come from antique stores and online—because she wanted to ensure that any viewer could relate.

Angela Casagrande's

Angela Casagrande's Burial

Angela Casagrande's

Angela Casagrande's What We Found

The most meaningful story for Casagrande is the story behind Burial: “I grew up in the family house and former bakery my great-grandparents owned and operated. Three generations of family had lived there, along with many boarding house tenants over the years. I’d heard rumors of a young woman’s ghost being spotted where the old bakery had been. I always wondered why she would be here and what kept her here. It got me thinking about attachments we have to people and places: the stories involved and how they inform and ultimately have a hand in whom we become later on. The eerie part of the story is that when some plumbing work was being done under the house, a woman’s brooch was found buried in the dirt.”

Casagrande processes her own black-and-white film, then scans it, and relies on Photoshop to compose the final images. Her workflow goes back and forth between darkroom and computer. “I experiment with handmade negatives and camera-less images,” she says. “This tactile part really helps me think about what I want when I work on a digital image.” 

Angela Casagrande's

Angela Casagrande's The Aunties

Angela Casagrande's

Angela Casagrande's Drowning, Pt 2 - The Long Fall

“I use Adobe Camera Raw for the broad strokes of the piece,” she says, “then Photoshop to add the fine details. I have to use both Adobe Bridge and Photoshop when I work. Bridge is an under-appreciated program. Without being able to organize and quickly find my images, I would be lost.” Casagrande’s favorite Photoshop techniques involve layer masks, painting with the Brush tool, and gradient maps (“so amazing for black and whites!”).

Casagrande’s work will be on view in January 2016 at Axis Gallery in Sacramento, California.