Tag: Prop making

The Theda Bara Tarot

I have reached a bit of an impasse with the Jook tarot. This is mainly due to the need to acquire a lot of props for the cards, and these are taking longer to obtain that I originally expected. Also, the unusual high temperature over the last few weeks in the UK has made both my studio and workshop unusable at the moment, and wet plate collodion chemicals do not like this. So, I have decided to work on a side project until September when I will be ready to re-commence the Jook tarot.

This side project is the Theda Bara Tarot. It was something I had planned, but thought it would be something for after the Jook Tarot was finished.

The inspiration for the idea behind the Theda Bara Tarot is from two angles.

Firstly, I described in my blog here that I researched thousands of vintage photographs, many from the silent film era. I saved the images that I liked best and that matched the aesthetic look and feel I wanted. I  noticed that images of Theda Bara were catching my attention much more than anyone else. I kept on seeing images of her from various films, thinking ‘that would make a great card.’ Eventually I realised that it might be feasible to create the major arcana with Theda Bara images. So I resolved to try and do this once I had completed the Jook Tarot.

Secondly, I talked in my blog here about my original intention to include my calligraphy in the Jook Tarot. As I decided this did not work with that tarot, I wanted to include it in a different project and the Theda Bara tarot is perfect for this.

I have now added a page to the main menu covering the Theda Bara tarot, and this can be found here.

Jook Tarot props

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

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