Tag: Wet plate collodion

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

Jook Tarot aesthetic

 

In my previous blog post, I talked about how I decided on what key elements and symbolism I wanted to include in each of the major arcana cards. In this post I will describe how I combine this with the aesthetic and look, and of the theme of the cards I am creating. This post will concentrate on the aesthetic and I will describe the theme in a future post.

The starting point for the aesthetic and look of my tarot deck is related to the medium I have chosen. By using the wet plate collodion photogaphy process, I am making a creative choice in how the medium impacts on the resulting image. Wet plate collodion has a unique look, that I believe to be both beautiful and mesmerising. It has a strange quality that captivates the viewer. Look into the eyes of a sitter on a wet plate and you feel you really are looking directly into their soul.

I describe the wet plate collodion process in more detail here. It was widely used from the 1860s to the 1880s. The look of wet plate collodion is influenced by a number of factors. I am using a camera dating from about 1880 and a selection of lenses from about the same period. I use the same collodion chemical as made according to recipes from that period. I use the same kind of substrate in glass plates. Everything is as close as possible to how it would have been done in the Victorian age. So the resulting images are as authentic and true to that period as I can make them.

So this is the first part of the aesthetic for my cards. That is that they genuinely look as if they could have been taken in the Victorian era. As far as I am aware the first photographic tarot deck was the beautiful and innovative Mountain Dream Tarot by Bea Nettles printed in 1975. But what if someone had produced a photographic tarot deck a century before that? What would it look like? What would be the influences? By using wet plate collodion, I can at least produce tarot images that could genuinely have been created then.

The wet plate process and the lens design and quality produces some interesting results compared to the later film negatives, and modern lenses. These include:

  • Wet plate collodion is a black and white process. It is only sensitive to blue light, so red appears as almost black and blue as almost white. When you see Victorian photos where they appear to be in mourning as they are dressed in black, this may not have been the case and they may have been in bright red or pink.
  • Early lenses were uncoated and of a simple design and this has a striking effect on images, especially on the way the background blurs. A very shallow depth of field and a swirling background are features of these lenses and the process.
  • Wet plate collodion is not as light sensitive as later methods. Most of my photos require an exposure time of between 5 and 12 seconds. Any movement during that time will result in a blurred image. It is not possible to get the pin sharp images we see in modern photography, and the slight softness of the image is a feature of the process and equipment. I should mention it would be possible to get sharper images by using modern lenses and powerful lighting units, but in my opinion this would detract from what I am trying to achieve.
  • Due to the process there are inevitably imperfections in every plate produced. Some of these can be explained, but some seem to be mysteries. These imperfections are often referred to as ‘artefacts’ and in some cases embraced as they are part of the uniqueness and charm of wet plate. I actively try to prevent such imperfections, but I have yet to produce a plate that is totally free from artefacts, and I suspect they will continue to appear in all  my work.

In this post, I have described how the choice of wet plate collodion as the medium has a significant impact on how the cards will look. In my next blog post I will explain how I will try and bring this all together with a theme that combines the tarot imagery and symbolism with the look and feel of wet plate collodion.

The story so far

So having created this website such a long time after actually starting this tarot project means a lot has happened already. So the purpose of this blog post, and probably the following ones will be to document what has happened so far.

I’ve wanted to create my own tarot deck for a very long time, but it wasn’t until 2014 that I discovered the wet plate collodion photographic process (described in more detail here), and realised this was the medium I had been looking for.  There are some photography based tarot decks, some film, some digital, some based on found images, some collages. But as far as I can see, no-one has created a wet plate collodion deck. I am not saying one does not exist, just that I have not seen one. I imagine some artists will have used the tarot theme to produce images as a project for individual cards or groups of cards, but I don’t think any have become completed decks.

After a lot of thinking, and finishing up other projects, it wasn’t until 2016 that I started some serious planning for the cards. I collected information about what I wanted for the individual cards and started storing these in A4 lever arch files. This has now expanded to cover seven folders.

The theme of the deck is influenced by vintage photography from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, inspired by images of fortune tellers, gypsies, dancers, silent movie stars and film stills. Some of these images appear in the header image at the top of this page. Add to that Victorian and Renaissance paintings and symbolism and references to tarot decks through the ages from the Visconti deck to Tarot de Marseille, to the French occultist decks and onto the Rider Waite deck and then more modern decks.

My approach to card design has been in two parts.

Firstly, what do the tarot cards mean to me? What are the key elements and symbolism of a card that are the core of the meaning for that card?

Secondly, how do I incorporate those elements and symbols in an image created by the wet plate collodion process and with the aesthetic mentioned above?

In addition to these factors, I also have to consider the following:

  • Wet plate collodion has some distinct issues that need to be considered in the design stage of the image.
  •  As a photographic deck created without the use of Photoshop or collage techniques, costumes, props and accessories all need to be acquired.
  • I don’t want to use the same model on more than one card (although there is a case to do so for some cards if we consider the major arcana as a journey) so will need a large number of models.

Over the next few blogs, I will consider the above five areas in more detail.

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