By way of a reminder, as it’s been on hiatus for a while: Black Widow Honey, Stephanie Whiteside’s and my ongoing tarot art project, is posting new work! We’re looking at wrapping up the posting of the last of the major arcana in the coming month or two, and will then be choosing the exact photos for the deck and making print copies available.
The Majors have arrived!
After a rather long and only semi-planned hiatus (sometimes life intervenes), we are back on the photography bandwagon, and at the time of this writing, are 18 photoshoots from the end. I… don’t even know what I’m going to do with myself when this project is over. I guess start one of the other half dozen projects that Stephanie and I have dreamed up for Black Widow Honey! Ha! Ha… ha…
The first card of the Major Arcana in a tarot deck is The Fool, appropriately, and it was a good starting point after having been off-task for a while. We didn’t have to remember what we’d been doing, necessarily, or try to recreate the feel of other cards in a suit, or anything like that- instead, the point was to start fresh, to begin anew, to strike out into new territory… you get where I’m going with this.
The Fool is traditionally a young person stepping out into the unknown (symbolized by a large cliff) with all their worldly possessions in a little stick-bundle. In spite of being about to step into the abyss (quite literally), The Fool is happy, face lifted to the sky, dog yapping at the heels. Even if we weren’t going to use any actual cliffs (neither Stephanie nor I have a fondness for heights), I wanted to be sure to capture that energy, that moment of lift-off, and to hell with what may come.
We ended up settling on trains for our Fool- they’re very helpfully emblematic of beginning a journey, and they’re also pretty appropriate for shooting in California, given how important rail lines were for trade and travel out here. We had worried a bit that we’d get thrown out of the Sacramento train museum, but instead they tried to recruit Stephanie to be a docent, given that her vintage costume and photographer clearly meant she liked history and had free time (ha). Some of the indoor photos did not come out as well as I had hoped, due to the low lighting, but we hit the jackpot with a red and yellow train right outside!
This is one of my favorite photo sets so far, with its bright colors and happy anticipation. I feel like it’s a very auspicious beginning of the end, as it were, and am really happy with the results! What do you think?
So, it’s been kind of a (very) long time since I’ve posted anything here about Black Widow Honey’s ongoing tarot project– Stephanie and I ended up taking a longer-than-anticipated hiatus because, well, life. But we have now shot the first four of the Major Arcana, hooray! And we’re making steady progress.
In the meantime, here are some teasers from my Instagram!
We shot the King of Coins on the same day as the Queen of Coins, as you may notice by the overlap in the bounteous feast in the photos. They’re similar cards in feel (at least to me), the main difference being that the Queen is internally concerned (abundance and protection of the self, the creative, the home, the fields) where the King is more external (abundance and protection of the kingdom, the era, the land).
I often feel as though the King and Queen of Coins are like the less dramatic versions of the Emperor and Empress in the Major Arcana- more so than the royalty of the other suits- primarily because the suit of coins is associated with Earth, and the Emperor and Empress are both (to me) cards of the self writ large- the physical self, the actions thereof, and the world surrounding.
I’m not thrilled with how these turned out, but I think they’ll do ok. I do like some of the angles I was able to shoot- it was difficult, because immediately out of the frame on pretty much all sides is furniture and rugs, which I was trying very hard to not get in the frame. I also always try with the Kings to shoot Stephanie from more traditionally “masculine” angles- whether we’re aware of it or not, we tend to shoot women from above, and men from below, which makes women seem smaller and more delicate, and men seem larger and over-leaning. With the Kings, especially since Stephanie is petite, I try to shoot her as large and spaciously as I can. I think that does come across especially in the first shot of this series.
Because we were shooting at my house, and on my floor, I had a very difficult time convincing my cats that Stephanie was not, in fact, sitting around waiting to pet them. By the end, it was getting to be more trouble than it was worth to keep Gandalf out of the shots, and I decided it was entirely appropriate to have both a cat and a wizard in the King of Coins, so there he is, looking at the viewer with no little disdain.
The Queen of Coins was a fun, and relatively easy shoot, and thank goodness for it. We did have some trouble with costuming, because we’re getting to the point in the cards where we’ve used pretty much everything in both our closets (and some of our friends’) at least once, but Stephanie found this green dress online, and I think it worked out very well.
The Queen of Coins is a card of abundance and wealth and plenty, and we decided to go the literal route, and had a feast. My backyard has vines galore, as does my porch, so we were able to set out a nice spread with greens abounding. With the late summer afternoon sun, I think it really turned out to be a beautiful setting.
I don’t have a lot to say about this card, other than that I’m very pleased with how it came out. I think the editing went well, and I think the poses are good, the lighting was excellent. I’m glad that we saved the suit of coins for last, it feels like a good note on which to have finished the minors.
The Knight of Coins, like all the knights, was a little difficult to initially decide on how to capture. Knights, to me, anyway, are all about movement- the transmission of information, messages, change in the air. I felt like we captured that very well with the other three knights, actually, but it did take some thought, and this knight, since it’s the knight of coins, of earth, seemed like even more of a stretch.
For this knight, we decided that the idea of motion might best be conveyed through the idea of discovery. The suit of coins or pentacles is all about wealth and prosperity, and so the discovery of unexpected or unlooked for resources seemed appropriate to the theme.
I enjoyed shooting this card, because it was a beautiful day and a beautiful park, and it was nice to just get outside and do something creative. Shooting these last few coins has really driven home for me how bad it is mentally and physically to be stuck in an office all day, every day. I don’t tend to think of myself as “outdoorsy”, but I grew up in the country with space and the outdoors as a matter of fact, and living in an urban environment is hard on me in sneaky ways.
I’m pleased with how this set turned out- they feel very woodlandy, very sort of elf-in-the-trees. Maybe not Tolkien-esque, but definitely like something out of a fairy-tale adventure. You can see what Stephanie thought here, see the full Flickr set here, or check out our website for the whole project here.
The Page of Coins is probably the most dangerous card we’ve shot in a while, in terms of “the photographer may break her neck” possibilities. As with most of the other “don’t try this at home, kids” shots, this involved me needing to be higher in the air than Stephanie, so that I could shoot down toward her.
In this case, we wanted to convey a sense of playing and youth, since the pages are typically “younger” cards, but I also wanted to make sure that we could see the ground, since the suit of Coins or Pentacles is traditionally associated with the element of Earth. We hit upon the idea of a jungle gym fairly early on, but
we live in an urban enough area that it was somewhat difficult to hunt one down; finally I remembered this climbing structure in the Ohlone Park near my office, which conveniently also had a second rope climbing structure, so we had options.
It was damp when we shot, which was what truly lent an air of “might injure” to the climbing- I’ve always liked jungle gyms and climbing things, so I had no problem getting to the top and wedging myself in. The more difficult bits were in trying to peer through a viewfinder, tell Stephanie where to move, and lean around while not losing my precarious balance on the slippery metal pipes. It wasn’t a traditional jungle gym, there weren’t a lot of joints to anchor yourself against, just a lot of wet, smooth, metal.
Nonetheless, they came off fine, and the rope climbing structure was much easier to navigate, and also a lot of fun. This shoot actually reminded me how much I like being active, and how much I hate “adult” forms of exercise (running, the treadmill, etc). It’s exactly the sort of reminder appropriate to this card- I like climbing, I like playing, I like a physical challenge. It’s when I feel obligated or routinized that I begin to resent my own physicality.
I’m pleased with the photos, overall- the second structure made me really want to shoot Stephanie as Ariadne or some such, because it looked so much like a web. We’ll see if it comes up in any of the Major Arcana, but as of this moment, I can’t think what we’d do with it. Still, it was a good site.
Finally- the Ten of Coins! *sound of trumpets blaring*
The Ten of Coins is the card that made us plow through the rest of the coins in about a month- Stephanie very much wanted to do it around her birthday, and do it with her friend who would be visiting for said birthday in the card. It was a real push to make it happen, but we did! And I do think it adds to the symbolism of the card, to have made that work out.
The Ten of Coins and the Ten of Cups, as I said in my post about the Ten of Cups, are somewhat interchangeable to me- I’m very much an earth sign, so I don’t draw lines between one kind of abundance and another, really. It’s like the old joke about “If you think money can’t buy you happiness, you’re doing it wrong”- sure, money in of itself is emotionally valueless, but you can use it to buy food, and to treat your friends, and to have space where you can have people over, and and and. All good and happy-making things.
For this card, we went the feasting route- we invited a bunch of friends, kind of assuming not everyone would make it, and then when everyone did, we realized we had nine people! Fine, we thought, we’ll just have Stephanie hold two coins, that’ll work, and then a last friend strolled through the door, completely without any foreknowledge of the gathering. Thanks to serendipity, we had ten!
Overall, I’m pleased with this card, though I wish it had been less backlit. I tried to mitigate that in the editing process, but I’m not sure how successful I was. Nonetheless, I think the spirit of the card is good, and everyone looks great. The food was good, fun was had, and all in all, this was one of our nicest shoots, right up there with the Six of Cups.
The Nine of Coins was one of those cards that Stephanie and I did not agree on how to interpret; in this case, pretty much at all. But I think that we succeeded in creating images that allow for either of our interpretations, which is good.
We shot in the Oakland Rose Garden for this, which we’d used before for the Ace of Cups, and it was as beautiful as always. We also went with a sort of medieval-y feel for it, which I think works well. She wore a dress I made years ago, and while not at all historically accurate, it’s pretty, which was the main goal.
To me, the Nine of Coins is a card of wealth and pleasure, but all to be enjoyed within certain limits. It’s the card of the courtesan, of the gilded cage. It can be very enjoyable, sure; there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the luxuries of life, or the creature comforts provided for you. But you should always be aware of the strings attached, and the price that is being paid.
I have two complaints about this card- first, the sun was too bright, and Stephanie’s skin plus the lace on the dress were too pale. In some of the shots it makes for a sort of glaring white blur, which is unfortunate. The other complaint is similar; we were still using the mardi gras coins and my foil coins, and they just picked up a little too much sun. They’re washed out in some of the shots, and it’s hard to tell that they’re coins at all.
All that said, I do think it turned out to be a nice set of images. Very pretty, and with some depth to them, if you look for it. You can read Stephanie’s take here, or visit our website here. Full Flickr set is available as always here.
The Eight of Coins was a bit of a difficult one in deciding how we were going to portray it. Unlike some of the others, we didn’t have any disagreements about what we wanted to convey, but rather were struggling with how to represent it without repeating too much of any of our prior images.
The Eight of Coins is sort of a further build upon the Three of Coins, only instead of being in the learning phase, we are now in the practicing phase. Hard work equals eventual success for the Eight, but only if you put in the effort.
We wanted to build on the use of crafting and textiles that we had used in the Three, but didn’t really have a floor loom, or other way to indicate a specific upgrade in skill. Instead we ended up going with cross stitch, and lots of it- pieces Stephanie was working on, pieces I was working on, and the coins.