We first discovered this work after it was submitted to the Portrait Awards 2015. Although it was not chosen as a finalist by the jury, the editors of LensCulture were impressed and decided to publish this feature article about it. Enjoy!


Captured in a Haitian slum, The Ghetto Tarot combines scenes from the famous, original Rider-Waite Tarot deck with elements of Haitian culture. Using only materials that could be found in the ghetto, while preserving the spirit and meaning of the card, this series draws connections between life in the slums and the culture of tarot readings. If an item couldn’t be found or recreated, it was replaced by a Voodoo symbol with the same meaning.

Captions describe the text from the original tarot deck, allowing the viewer to draw conclusions about the message within the image. The image of The Hanged Man challenges the viewer with his stare, while the description clarifies the card’s significance:

The Hanged Man shows a man suspended, upside-down. Given the serene expression on his face, it is believed he is hanging on the tree of his own will. Around the Hanged Man’s head is a bright yellow halo showing spiritual attainment, with the grey background suggesting invisibility. This is the card of ultimate surrender, of being suspended in time and of martyrdom and sacrifice to the greater good. This is the archetype to meditate on to help break old patterns of behavior and bad habits that restrict you.

Meaning: Suspension, restriction, letting go, sacrifice.For many, fortune telling can be a symbol of hope. For others, it’s meaningless superstition.

These staged portraits combine to create and interesting view of Haitian life. While they cannot be considered documentary in nature, they do touch on the role of superstition by combining Voodoo elements.

—Alice Smeets