Aiming to spark a discussion about the dualities in the world, “The Ghetto Tarot” has come to life, a photographic interpretation of the traditional tarot deck in the ghetto, which now makes its viral rounds through the web. Together with a group of Haitian artists called Atis Rezistans (resistant artists), Belgian photographer Alice Smeets replicates the scenes which are inspired by the Rider Waite Tarot deck originally designed by Pamela Colman Smith in 1909.
The idea behind choosing the term “Ghetto” as a name for the deck “is to have people question their own assumptions about what the ghetto really is and to change the often negative connotation that the word implies in our culture into a positive one”, Smeets explains. Understanding the ghetto as a group of citizens full of capacity, creativity and strength would dissolve the circle of dependence and victimization, consequentially reintegrating the lost self-trust into their own original ideas. The objective is to reach beyond cultural walls of prejudice and ignorance to achieve a much needed transformation of the collective conscience perception of the Ghetto. For more check out the interview below and visit her website www.alicesmeets.com and www.indiegogo.com.
How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
I am a free spirit; I follow my heart and make my dreams and ideas come to life. This is all in the pursuit of opening our eyes to what happens in our inner and outer worlds while exposing all the inherent beauty with the intention to spread inspiration.
Whom do you look up to?
I do not like the term “looking up”. Everybody has their strenghts and weaknesses and I would not trade place with anybody else in this universe. But if you’d like to know which people inspire me: anybody who follows their bliss and does what they love.
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your way of thinking?
Philip Jones Griffith, the famous war photographer used to be my mentor and had a huge influence on my documentary work. He strengthened my self-confidence and gave me important lessons about photography.
When I switched to art photography, it was the philosopher Alan Watts, who inspired me to think outside the box and follow what makes me happy as well as the spiritual teacher Byron Katie, who inspired me to question my thoughts about the world and myself.
What made you want to become a photographer?
Since my teenager years, I have been interested into photography and used to take pictures of landscapes and portraits of my friends. When the question arose what to do with my life after high school, I listened to my gut feeling that told me to study photography.
I decided to attend a photography BA in an art college in Belgium, that was supposed to last for three years. After one year though, I felt that a school wasn’t the right place to learn how to become a photographer. So I started attending workshops of professional photographers, did an internship at a photo agency, and travelled on my own to Haiti to document the culture with my camera instead.
My path was learning by doing until I met Philip Jones Griffiths during one of these workshops. He offered me a position as his assistant. My stay at his place in London lasted two months, which also happened to be the last two months of his life due to a terminal cancer. Philip taught me an immense amount about photography, journalism and our current state of the world as he felt that he wanted to pass on his knowledge to a young photographer before his death. After his death I continued my journey on my own by creating my own picture stories and finding magazines that would publish them. I participated in photography contests and was lucky to win the Unicef picture of the year award 2008 with a photograph of a little girl walking through a puddle in the middle of the slum in Haiti. The award made my life easier, as it gave my photographs more credibility and it was easier to approach picture editors of magazines.
So it all began. From then on it was a lot of networking, self marketing and many travels around the world with my camera, including at least one visit to Haiti every year.
What was your favourite project and why?
My favourite project was the Ghetto Tarot, because for the first time I was the creator of the photos instead of the observer.
As a photographer, my main motivation has always been to bring change using my camera as a tool. As a witness of injustice in this world, I have always wanted to share my emotions and experiences through my pictures and was hoping for people to act as a result to stop the unfairness.
I photographed people in seemingly hopeless situations, people stuck in a circle of poverty, destruction and pain. And I accomplished my wish to touch the viewers feelings and observed that the emotions that my documentary photos brought up were emotions of pity, sadness, and depression. Finally, I realized that the negative feelings that my images projected onto the audience as well as onto the subjects created a sensation of disempowerment instead of an inspiration towards the act of change. With this realization came an understanding unveiling the continuous exposure of my own state of mind in every picture frame and the awareness that the change I desired for this world could only thrive within myself.
As a consequence, I put the camera down for a while and turned my attention towards my inner self. It seemed like a long and difficult path in which I tried out many different methods, including reading tarot cards until I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel: The revelation that I don’t need to be the observer of my and the worlds’ problems and destiny, I am a creator.
Thus, I felt inspired to combine my passions to create a very personal piece of art. And I hope that a spark of this inspiration will arise in others… to once again share my experiences and emotions with them.
How do you define creativity?
Creativity is a state of allowance in which you let the energy of the universe flow through you to create something that reflects your inner world.
If you had one advice for someone seeking to live a creative life, what would you tell him?
Find out what is holding you back from living your dream. Most of the time it is a core belief that we integrated in our childhood that makes us think that we are not good enough, we do not deserve a life full of joy, or that the life of an artist involves a lot of struggles because there is too much competition. These core beliefs are so deeply integrated into our mind that they have become part of our identity and it’s difficult to see them. Subconscious patterns are running in “auto” mode in your brain because at some point you took these patterns as truth in your life and invested beliefs in them to the point where they became “ingrained” patterns. These core negative beliefs influence your perception of reality and therefore create new negative thoughts as well as fears on a daily basis. Actually I have written a little book about this question, which will be available to download for free on the website: www.ghettotarot.com, which will go online at the beginning of November.
Do you have a favourite quote that describes what you truly believe in?
“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”- Alan Watts
Follow your bliss, follow what is making you happy. Drop the expectations and do only what your heart truly desires.
What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced during your career as a photographer?
I think I never had a real challenge when it comes to my career. Everything came very easily into my life. But I had very difficult challenges in my private life, which I learned to overcome, which influenced the way that I photographed.
What do you know now that you wish you knew at 21?
Your work and your life becomes much easier if you live without expectations. If you do what you love, everything else will fall into place.
Is there anything for which you would be ready to give up your passion for photography?