Bea Nettles created the first photographic tarot deck; the Mountain Dream Tarot published in 1975. At the time, there was no digital and no photoshop, so Nettles had to obtain all the props she needed for the deck. In her words:

If you needed an eagle in an image, you had to find an eagle to photograph…. The same was true with flames, water, boats, swords, and all of the other props.

Work in progress on the shield for the Emperor and Empress

This reality is very true for my tarot deck. Although it would be possible to scan the plates from the wet plate process into photoshop and add items there, this would not be true and honest to the process and to the aesthetic and look of the deck. Consequently, all the props I need for each card must be purchased, borrowed or made.

Making the Sun; with 21 rays

For some cards this may be a large undertaking due to the number of props needed. Some cards will get away with very little. Under props I include costumes. As noted in the previous blog, these need to adhere to the theme and aesthetic of the period, so no modern clothing allowed.

Purchasing the props would certainly be the easiest option, and I have purchased a few cheap items from vintage/antique shops and ebay. However, due to the large number of props needed, purchasing them all is not affordable. I’ve been able to borrow some items from friends and family which has helped.

The Sun almost finished

The remainder of props needed will have to be made. This is proving to actually be quite fun and enjoyable, but is very very time consuming. I realise that this is going to create a delay in producing the deck. However, I see no other way to solve this. I have a vision of the cards I want to produce and these require very specific props, and I don’t want to compromise on this.

The wet plate collodion process also has an impact on the props. Firstly, it is only sensitive to blue light, so red appears as almost black and blue as almost white. This means for some props I need to be careful about their colour. For example, yellow also appears as almost black, so if I want my Sun to look light on the black and white scale, it can’t be yellow.

Foamboard sword made for a test, and foam armour templates

Secondly, as I mention in a previous blog post, the process does not produce pin sharp images that we are used to today. Images are a lot softer, with rapid fall off of focus. So the process is very forgiving, and I will be able to get away with props that would look terrible on digital, but look fine on wet plate.

In a future blog post, I will describe the prop making process for some of the items I am making in more detail