Theda Bara in Cleopatra (1917)

In my previous blog posts, I described my process for tarot symbolism research and the aesthetic of wet plate collodion photography. In this blog post I am going to talk about the theme of my tarot deck.

I need the deck to have a unified theme, a way for the cards to work together as a set. Part of this is achieved by the use of the wet plate collodion to give the cards a uniform look. In addition to this, I want it to have a consistent theme running trough the cards to help them work as a unified deck rather than a random collection of images.

I talked in previous blog posts about the wet plate process being widely used from the 1860s to the 1890s, and according to Wikipedia, still used by some portrait photographers as late as the 1930s. I am using the same equipment and chemicals that would have been used during this period. It makes sense to me that the first part of the theme should be that the deck looks like it was created during that period. So, the clothing, make up and props should also look as if they were from that period or earlier.

Valeska Suratt (c1916)

I love the look and feel of the old silent films, and the studios were great at making many stills of these films. Sadly for the many films (such as Cleopatra starring Theda Bara) lost in the Fox studio fire, all we have left are these stills. Stills from the silent era films are a major inspiration for me as invoking the look and feel of the period.

Julia Margaret Cameron – The Passing of Arthur (1874)

Add to this the works of Victorian photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron and others who were linked to the pre Raphaelite Brotherhood and were among the first to use photography as an art form. Much of this art based photography was allegorical and based on Biblical and historical events. This ties in with my interest in the silent films, especially the epic ones similarly based on historical and Biblical events. 

I suppose my attraction to these images is that many seem to relate to vague historical periods where there are knights with swords, kings, queens, emperors and empresses. Just like the tarot. Even the Rider Waite deck printed in 1910 features characters in armour, medieval dresses, many swords and not even a hint of the 20th century.

This was also at a time in the Victorian era when there was an interest in spiritualism, mysticism, the occult etc. So in addition to the type of images described above, there are a lot of vintage photographs surviving from this period of fortune tellers, gypsies and interesting and eccentric looking characters who embraced this culture and lifestyle. To me, many of these images look like real life tarot characters.

My approach for inspiration for a coherent theme has been to search for images from the past from silent films, Victorian art photographers and from the general area of mysticism related images. I hope that these images give me the inspiration to produce a series of tarot images that fit together as a unified whole when compared to the other cards in the deck. Whenever I came across an image on the web or from a book, I made a copy, printed them and placed them on file. Examples of these images can be seen on this page and are also part of the header image on this website.

In a future blog post I will consider the addition of text to the images, and how everything will hopefully come together to produce the card images.