Tabitha Soren - Photography and Art
Tabitha Soren
Tabitha Soren

Tabitha Soren

San Francisco, CA

"My work visualizes psychological states; the internal weather that storms though each of us."
A visual artist in different domains for over twenty-five years, Soren has long explored the intersection of culture, politics, the body and psychology. “Surface Tension” at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College is her first museum solo show.

“Surface Tension” encourages us to see our relationship with everyday technology in unexpected ways, highlighting the marks we leave on glass screens, which we routinely ignore or erase. The subjects pictured beneath the surface record our culture while the smears of fingerprints record our lives, our flitting attentions. They map how we spend our time.

Using an 8x10 large-format camera, Soren shoots iPad screens under a raking light to reveal the tactile trail we leave behind. The science of touch makes clear that humans need to connect with the physical world, yet we spend an increasing amount of time satisfying only our sense of sight while touching the cold impervious surfaces of technological devices. “Trading photographs on tiny digital screens is a funny way to transact relationships,” says Soren. “Just as ‘LOL’ is a funny kind of laugh and emoticons are a peculiar kind of language.”

The images beneath the surface in “Surface Tension” also address touch, whether they depict a teenage girl blowing a kiss to her Mom or the fatal shooting by police of Michael Brown, which ignited riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Touch is also at issue, more abstractly, in the incremental damage done by the global human presence to the Great Barrier Reef, the Arctic and Greenland.

Soren’s works are both painterly and resolutely photographic. They up-end the whole notion of a façade by bringing emotional depth to the surface and a mournful beauty to specular politics. Art historically, “Surface Tension” can be seen as a critique of the brutal alienation of Thomas Ruff’s internet porn series and Richard Prince’s Instagram paintings. Here, Soren is in dialogue with figures as diverse as feminist appropriation artist Barbara Kruger and the 19th century British painter of the sublime JMW Turner.

As a child, Soren was an avid recorder of her environment, taking snapshots with her pocket-sized Kodak Ektralite 10. Her father was in the air force and the family moved frequently around the USA, Germany and the Philippines. “Besides my immediate family, every person in my life changed every three years,” says Soren. “I learned over time that if I got pictures of my friends, I could take them with me.”

When Soren began her career in television in 1989, she shot her own video footage. She continued to be her own “cameraman” when she began covering politics for MTV News then shifting into directing the camera (aka producing). She was an on-air producer when she was awarded, in 1993, the Peabody Award for Excellence in Journalism for her coverage of the presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton and George Bush senior. In 1999, Soren took up a fellowship at Stanford University where she shifted her visual arts practice from 30 frames a second to single frame photographs.

Tabitha Soren (b.1967, San Antonio TX) is an artist and Peabody Award-winning journalist, best known for her work with MTV news. Her photographs are held in many private and public collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the George Eastman Museum of Photography, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Oakland Museum of California, and San Francisco’s Pier 24. Soren’s book, Fantasy Life, published by Aperture in 2017, follows the Oakland A’s 2002 draft class for 15 years - from their first spring training to their post-baseball lives, where some ended up as celebrity millionaires playing in the World Series and others struggle with poverty and homelessness. Soren lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Q&A

How do your pieces come to life? Tell us one interesting thing about your creative process?

"I think these screens we all own are designed to be these amazingly perfect, shiny, oleophobic devices that are so the opposite of us as human beings. I’m looking at my hands and they have pen marks on them, I’m sure there’s bacteria I can’t see, I’m hairy, my fingertips are a little sweaty—we’re the opposite of the machine. To make these images intentionally beautiful, I think, is a great reminder that all of our imperfections are too. I think the machines really resist the essence of humanity. But I love them too—it’s not like I’m anti-technology."
-- Tabitha Soren
Q&A

What do you want people to do or feel when they encounter your creations?

"We are living at a moment of critical change in perception, and in how we perceive. There’s a shift from the verbal world, and the tactile world, to the visual world — a sphere in which our lives take place on a screen. Our screens and the way that we touch them are an attempt by people to enter into another world. They’re our contemporary cave paintings."
-- Tabitha Soren
Q&A

What funny moments, unexpected surprises, or obstacles have you encountered?

"Keeping my smartphone on with the ringer off while working infuriates my three children. I’ll be upstairs and my daughter will text me from her bedroom downstairs. I will text her back, ‘I’m not answering your question , until you come upstairs. I’m here — in the flesh. It’s not that hard to walk upstairs.’"
-- Tabitha Soren
Q&A

What is your favorite material to work with?

"Using a large-format Hasselblad camera, I made a series of analogue images of screen shots on an iPad coated in the oily tracks of human fingerprints. This is my attempt to create a visual dictionary of the “remnants of a haptic language” — haptics being the concept of touch and all its sensory implications. I want to create art that you haven't seen before but that also has some shred of familiarity - and entry point."
-- Tabitha Soren
Q&A

What motivates and inspires you?

"I have two different modes when I'm working in my studio . One is coming up with the piece of art, and for that I need really loud music. Not music I’ve heard 1,000 times but something that’s fairly new. I like Lizzo and Sunflower Bean and I’ve worn out Liz Phair's new single "Good Side”. The other mode is when I’m doing something with my hands, and as long as there’s not writing involved, I can listen to good podcasts. There was a podcast called “The Mystery Show” by Starlee Kine, and they’re all amazing but there are only six and that’s maddening. There’s another one called “Heavyweight” that’s also really worth listening to. And you can’t ignore “You're Wrong About.” Every single episode is mind-blowing."
-- Tabitha Soren
Q&A

What makes a space special?

"My favorite space is the one where the fewest interruptions happen."
-- Tabitha Soren
Q&A

What’s unique about your work?

"My Surface Tension work meditates on the technology of touchscreens and asks us to see our relationship to everyday technology in new and surprising ways. The science of touch makes clear that humans need to connect with the physical world yet we spend an increasing amount of time satisfying only our sense of sight. Soren’s large scale works examine our fleeting attention heightened by our increased technological dependency."
-- Tabitha Soren
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