I’m in the process of creating a deck of Tarot cards with my underwater photography. It has gone from a fairly ambitious fun project to a very serious, possibly impossible undertaking. I’m feeling the need to document the process here. It’s how I’m either going to relish my accomplishment or learn from my huge mistake.
It all started innocently enough in early 2019. I’m a goal oriented person. It’s the only way I can stay on task. I make a goal then take the steps necessary to achieve the goal.
1) I want to photograph characters, underwater, who are part of a story
2) The story and characters must belong to the universe, not just one person or group
3) The story must have a beginning, middle, and end
4) I want interesting and dynamic characters
5) The story and characters must be available for personal interpretation
6) I would like for this project to contribute to peoples’ happiness
7) I want to work with my collaborator friends, who I enjoy, love, and care about
8) I want characters that my collaborators are passionate about
9) I don't want just one style of aesthetic, but a variety
10) I want to explore light and dark in my photography
11) I want my collaborators to express their creativity in their character of choice
12) I want the challenge of taking all those photographs and creating a cohesive project
13) I want to offer a physical product
14) I want to be able to print the entire project, at least a few times, in a few different formats
15) I want some video as well as still photos
16) I would like for this project to become a multimedia gallery show, display or event
17) I will use Kickstarter so that the project will pay for itself and I don't risk financial ruin
18) I want this project to help enable me to continue creating this type of photographic art
In the past I had started photographing the Roman and Greecian gods and goddesses, but there are countless of them and I need to feel like I completed a project. I started a project with Disney princesses, but ultimately it rang hollow with me. Mermaid lore can be found in each culture around the world, but I didn't feel comfortable making my own interpretations. I didn’t want to interpret the narrative, or each character, of a story on my own. I had thought of Tarot but, having been raised Catholic, I didn't know anything more than it was pageon and so must certainly be evil. However, last summer, two separate friends off-handedly mentioned it as an idea and that turned on a light bulb in my head. These two people are really good, decent, intelligent people, so this whole Tarot thing can’t be evil. I asked questions and their passion for the topic lit up their whole bodies. They each described a story full of choice and self-exploration. At that point, I knew that this was the right project to fulfill my needs.
My first thought was that I would photograph the 22 Major Arcana to make a deck of cards for each participant and that would be it. Twenty-two photo shoots - that’s a lot. Where would I find this many people? My little core group of favorite models does not consist of that many people and I never anticipated that each one would want to be involved. The outfits are elaborate and complicated, and who would want to take on some of the more bummer cards? I can see the beautiful cards like Empress or Sun, but Tower or Wheel? Really?
In October of 2019 I had my first solo gallery show. I asked some of my favorite collaborators to be part of a panel discussion about healthy artistic collaborations. I was worried that only a few people would attend our talk so I hosted a “thank you” dinner for my panel in the gallery before our presentation so that the trip out would be worth their while. During dinner I thanked my friends for being such a positive part of my life and announced that I would like to do a Tarot card project. I really need to learn to adjust my expectations. Not only was everyone excited about the Tarot card project, but over a hundred people attended the panel discussion.
Discussions about the topic soon turned into actual plans. In late February 2020 I was supposed to start making appointments for photo shoots, but was overcome with an overwhelming feeling of dread. I knew that if we scheduled the shoots now that something would happen and we would have to reschedule. Within two weeks my internal dread was confirmed with the lock-down of our country due to a global pandemic.
Being an introvert by nature, I didn't mind being stuck at home at first, but as the months dragged on I knew that not only did I need a creative outlet, but my creative collaborator friends would too. We needed something to work on, something to look forward to. I came up with a new set of rules based on health and safety for myself, my collaborators, and my family, and started to schedule appointments. The list of cards wasn't open for a week before it was completely full.
Not long into the shoots it became apparent that I needed to also create the Minor Arcana cards as well. Everyone involved has gone above and beyond all expectations so I need to do the suits as well and make this a complete deck. It’s the least I could do. It only took a few hours to cast the rest of the deck.
Of course I had no idea how big it would get. As soon as I announced the project on social media I was swamped with messages and positive feedback. It became obvious that this might be bigger than I had originally thought. I decided that I will need to do a Kickstarter, as I did with my calendars, so I would know exactly how many decks to order.
So right now I sit here with the realization that this project is huge. I need to come up with an identity for the deck, a title, fonts, a logo, an illustration for the back of the cards, a book, prints, a social media campaign, some special handmade items. I will have to edit 78 images. Seventy-eight fully edited, completely perfect photographs. Seventy-eight! Editing two images is hard.
Oh yeah, it just dawned on me, before the first shoot I couldn't decide if I wanted to shoot this on a black or neutral gray background. Each would lead to a very different editing style and feel to the cards. So in my infinite wisdom I decided to do both. That way I would have a dark and a light deck for the Major Arcana.
So let’s redo the math here… (22 x 2) + 16 + 40 = 100.
That is one hundred fully edited images. One hundred images. 100. One hundred. ONE HUNDRED! So today is the day that I take this on full time, until this project is complete. I am so moved by the effort that my collaborators have put into their costumes and the story behind their cards. Each has brought their own flavor to their cards - just as I wanted. While it’s up to me to pull this all together and make cohesive decks, it will always represent the uniqueness of each of these beautiful special people and the variety each adds to this project, and to my life. So even though I’m well into this adventure, I do feel like today is the kickoff. The photo shoots are easy compared to the rest of the tasks.
This project has to be successful. It is a “make or break” for me. If it goes well I get to keep doing this kind of work, keep my home and thus my pool that I have worked so hard to make into a studio. A lot is riding on this. A lot of people have invested their time, talents, and hard earned money in their creations and are counting on me to succeed. This project has to be successful. Please wish me luck.