Restaging the Tarot: Photographer Alice Smeets in Haiti

Strangely Familiar: Photography That Empowers

As an amateur tarot reader and photographer, these images speak to me on many levels. I love it as a Tarot series: the imagery is powerful not only because it channels the past, but because it shows so much of the present. The cards are supposed to speak to questions people bring. People come with their current issues, history, life experiences.

This is one reason there are so many decks out there: different people respond to different imagery. Having imagery that reflects a contemporary reality is hugely important. It makes interpreting the cards easier for the contemporary experience.

For instance, the nine of swords is one of my favorite cards. It’s an emotional card, traditionally showing a figure in bed with nine swords on the wall. Personally, I’ve never touched a sword. The closest object to that for me, would be cooking knives.

In this series, the nine swords on the wall are machetes. The wall is a bit rough, painted, but has parts chipped. These details give insight into Haitian life that traditional media isn’t. We hear stories of the earthquake, disease, poverty. We hear large numbers, generic suffering. We don’t understand simple facts like how do they get water? What do they use machetes for?

By combining deeply familiar imagery and Port-Au-Prince life, Alice Smeets and Atiz Rezistans have found a way to connect disparate communities. Some photography can dehumanize and disconnect us. It makes us think of people only in their suffering, only in their exotic strangeness. These images do just the opposite: they make the viewer ask questions about the scene, about Port-Au-Prince. They make the viewer want to explore the city. They make us want to connect.

In a globalized world where we have increasing connection and impact on each other, this photography series can only help us ask better questions and think more deeply on poverty, ghetto, and what it means to be human today.

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