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Tarot series – Tabitha Swanson and Laura Schaeffer
Courtesy of Tabitha Swanson and Laura Schaeffer

These artists transform tarot cards into ethereal 3D fantasy worlds

Laura Schaeffer and Tabitha Swanson teamed up with the Good Horoscope on a four-part series of digital artworks based on tarot readings

Temperance, Strength, The Magician, and Wheel of Fortune. These are the cards that photographer Laura Schaeffer, digital artist Tabitha Swanson, and astrologer Good Horoscope discovered they all had in common during a tarot reading last year.

Keen to depict the mysticism of tarot through a digital lens, the Berlin-based artists embarked on a project to build CGI celestial worlds inspired by the cards. “We did some research into elements and objects historically within the cards, as well as poses of figures in decks from hundreds of years ago,” says Swanson. “We worked on mixing those elements with a modern twist, translating the figures and symbols into the new media. Each card has the number of the tarot etched within the 3D structures.”

The result is a four-part series featuring Good Horoscope in various otherworldly fantasyscapes. Industrial silver cogs are juxtaposed against soft lavender skies, while smooth alien structures emerge from pinkish thickets. “We are able to reach a level of uncanny valley that tricks the brain into feeling like it understands what’s going on, before realising that it’s actually a fictitious space,” she explains.

Take a look at the images in the gallery above.

Can you describe how the project came about?

Tabitha Swanson: Laura and I had come up with the idea of incorporating tarot in a project mixing both photography and CGI in June 2020 – and, in November that year, we had the shoot.

Over the next year, a lot happened. I got moderate COVID with long COVID afterwards, and we both had ups and downs as the world continued to go through changes. This project has been a true time marker of COVID in many ways.

We took the time we needed to with it and there were many times when we spoke about the project, at times even across the pond and throughout several time zones, that we also checked in with each other too. Laura has definitely been part of my support system during all of this. 

Laura did a tarot reading of herself, myself, and our model Randon Rosenbohm, AKA the astrologer Good Horoscope. She found that between the three of us, we shared four common cards. These were Temperance (XIV), Strength (XI), The Magician (I), and Wheel of Fortune (X). 

What about tarot do you find compelling?

Laura Schaeffer: Funnily enough, I don’t consider myself a particularly spiritual person, but tarot cards have always been somewhat special to me. Growing up, it used to be something I did with my mother on special occasions. Besides that, I like how the cards can offer a means for self reflection. You essentially make time for yourself and for your thoughts – and, if you commit to it, you might find something that resonates with you.

Tabitha Swanson: For me, like all religions and mystical practices, they carry an element of historical significance and cultural interest. Laura has her own deck, and at the time, was getting more into reading tarot. I think in moments where things seem overwhelming or daunting, which much of the last two years have been especially, having something give reason or find order in the world around us can feel calming. 

How did you begin envisioning each of these worlds?

Laura Schaeffer: Being a photographer, it was especially fascinating to me to be able to surpass the boundaries of what is physically (and let’s be honest, financially) possible in terms of creating a new world. Rather than working with objects that already exist, it was somehow really special to be able to find new shapes and forms together with Tabitha.

Tabitha Swanson: We did a lot of research into both historical tarot designs and worked on incorporating that into a modern aesthetic. We also both contributed research from both the CGI and photography realm and tried to take inspiration from a wide breadth of mediums. We also both played the role of co-art director and it was a very balanced vision that went to a place neither of us would have gone separately. 

“Both mysticism as well as the digital sphere can be subject to our imagination. They allow us to really tap into and channel our subconscious as well as our imagination” – Laura Schaeffer

Can you describe the process of making the images? 

Tabitha Swanson: After Laura and I planned out the concepts for each image, we all got together as a team to shoot! The team was amazing, we had Leana Ardeleanu on makeup, Kosuke Ikeuchi on hair, Randon was our amazing model, and Laura taking pictures! My work came a bit after, so I was mostly assisting where I could and looking over the images with Laura to see what looked good. 

After the photos were taken, Laura cut Randon out of each pic and we started the next stage. I worked on unique sculptures for each card, according to what Laura and I had concepted. And Laura and I chatted about each of them until they felt right. Then I created a 3D scene, replicated some of the lighting that was in the shoot to ensure Randon looked like she fit in each scene, put in each object, and placed her in each scene in a way that looked comfortable and natural. After that, Laura did a little bit of post on the pictures and we had our series.

I find this idea of transposing mysticism/spiritualism into the digital sphere – seeming opposites – super interesting. What are your thoughts? How do you feel that digital modes of communication can be used to evoke spiritual messages?

Laura Schaeffer: Both mysticism as well as the digital sphere can be subject to our imagination. They allow us to really tap into and channel our subconscious as well as our imagination. From it, we can envision and construct an alternate reality in a very intuitive fashion, serving as some sort of exploration and escapism at the same time.

Tabitha Swanson: I think they can be both the same and opposites. I think by incorporating technology well, pieces can be more evocative and visceral for the viewer.