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Long Island Girl Makes It Big with New Exhibit

Ever since she was a girl growing up on Long Island in the 1970s, Diana Elliott has loved fairy tales.

Her father, an engineer in Brooklyn, would bring home old and tattered copies of children's books he unearthed in the trash or at New York's secondhand stores.

A threadbare 1910 edition of "Alice in Wonderland" was one of his prized finds, and Elliott, 39, still has the book today.

"That was my favorite part of childhood -- reading fairy tales," she said. "I got lost in them."

Decades later, Elliott, who moved to Berkeley two years ago, has created a set of haunting and dark photos inspired by some of her favorite fairy tales, classical paintings and film stills.

The 22 color and black-and-white pictures are on display at UC Berkeley's ASUC Art Gallery through Aug. 3.

In one image, an adult Gretel clutches her brother Hansel in a sinister forest. Lost, Hansel appears frightened, but Gretel's facial expression is strangely resigned, almost as if she knows, and is prepared for, whatever is in store for the duo.

Creating a stage

For Elliott, staging a photo -- pulling together costumes and props and getting the model's makeup and hair just right -- is often just as important as snapping the picture.

"Rather than the notion that a photo develops instantly and is a reaction to something ... she creates a stage and then directs her subjects or characters within it," said professional photographer and educator Peter Honig, who teaches photography workshops at UC Berkeley and helped Elliott with the show.

Her love of the staging process also may be rooted in her childhood.

"I have always loved the idea of dressing up and using costumes since I was a child," she says. "I used to dress up in costumes with my best friend, and create scenarios and stories.

"Now that I'm no longer a child, I find that I can recapture the feeling of fun for myself by creating stories using photography."

Shooting locations are often local, including Tilden Park in Berkeley and Oakland's Mountain View Cemetery, though many of the shots were taken in New York when she lived there.

Although all were shot within the past decade, Elliott said she hopes her pictures will give people a feel for another era.

"I would like to think that each of my images tells a story, that someone could look at one of the images and imagine themselves in another time period, perhaps as that character," she says.

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