the future looks grim...the Arcadia Tarot

Late in 2011 I had this idea. I thought it would be a really cool project for myself to take on the Tarot Cards and make a photographic series based on them. After doing some searches online, it seemed that no one had done it so far – really?? No one? Did I stumble onto untapped fodder for ideas? Could I be that lucky? Jazzed as I was by this, I researched everything I could find on the cards – there was a LOT of information, and many, many versions of the deck. Not being terribly familiar with them, I nevertheless, once upon a time, owned a Rider Deck, and that’s the one I was most familiar with, so I decided to base mine on those. After absorbing a lot about the symbolism within the illustrations, the color scheme and what each meant, and even the connection to the zodiac and which signs pertained to which deck of the Minor Arcana, I was ready to start this project.

I first determined the size needed, basing it on the Rider Deck dimensions. I decided on the overall color palette of each suit of the Minor Arcana, from which our modern playing cards evolved. I assigned the three corresponding zodiac symbols and even a runic symbol appropriate to the suit and their meanings. Fonts were decided upon, and the basic template was made for the border and graphics of the cards. So far so good, but there were no images.

I decided to start gently, doing the Ace of each suit of the Minor Arcana. See, the suits all have a prop: Pentacle, Sword, Wand, Cup, and each sequential card in the suit adds more and more of the props in the images. Ergo, Ace of Pentacles begets one Pentacle, Two of Pentacles begets two, and so on. So, starting with the Aces meant only one prop needed, and no models, as each Ace in the Rider Deck is a disembodied hand holding its suit’s symbol. A simple place to start…except where to find these props?

I got lucky with the Pentacle, finding a nice 8” wall piece of a Celtic Pentacle. Done! I ordered a sword replica from Amazon. Not so great. It was too big, and way to mirror-reflective of a finsh to be anything but a nightmare to shoot. The Wand took forever to find – because really, what the hell is a wand?? In the Rider Deck, it is more like a walking staff, a bamboo rod with live buds sprouting out of it. But, in the modern vernacular, we think of “magic wand” when we hear the word “wand.” So I opted for both, and bought an antique walking stick for my magic wand, and a couple bamboo stalks for my other wand. The cup was the biggest pain in the ass. I never did find one that was right – I ended up using an old antique wine goblet, but it wasn’t right. I searched and searched online, usually for chalices, but all of them were too Judeo-Christian, too shiny, or too small for my purposes.

But anyway, I started making some of the cards happen, doing the Aces to set the tone for the Minor Arcana suits, and having a color and design palette to jump off from. So far so good. After the expense of procuring the hero props I realized very early on that I could only afford one prop per suit, so I was going to have to do some Photoshop cloning to make more than one happen per suit. I used myself as a model for a couple of the cards, and dealt with the first clone shot for the Two of Pentacles.

As I went along, knocking out one card after another, slowly, over months, I realized the scope of this undertaking was pretty mammoth, and was going to take possibly years. There was the sheer volume of it: 78 cards in all. There was the number of cards requiring models and costumes: nearly every one. There were props I had no idea how I would get or fake or afford like thrones for the Kings and Queens, A dark Tower, a Chariot. A Chariot!! Where the hell does one rent a Chariot?? All this to say, it is a very big undertaking, which in and of itself is not a problem – I would dedicate myself to the time it took to do a good job, but you have to be really passionate about what you are doing to stay focused on it for that long, and at the end of the day, I wasn’t. I think the EUREKA moment of what a good idea it was, and how the project could actually be lucrative if completed into a viable deck for sale, and how it had a built in audience factor was eclipsing the fact that I just didn’t care enough about it to see it through. I think some of the decks are beautifully done, and I thought I could make some striking images from them, but it wasn’t enough fuel to keep me going, and I want to be free to explore ideas as they come, and not be tied to representing already established images. In other words, I wanted to write original songs, and not do cover songs for the next two years or so.

It’s one of the few times I have taken on a creative endeavor and abandoned it unfinished, but it was starting to feel like an anchor and a chore, and that does not make for a well-produced result. So, while it’s never wise to say “forever” about anything, for now, it feels done. Incomplete. It was fun for a while – putting the design of the cards together, doing the research, and I am proud of some of them. So, unless I revisit them sometime in the future, here are the ones I completed, in no particular order, one last time.


Thanks for reading.

Michael – Dec 04, 2012