If you came of age in the '90s, you know Tabitha Soren as the MTV News anchor with the perfect fire-engine-red bob, delivering the top stories you wanted to hear, in front of a backdrop of planet Earth. What you may not know is that since her departure from the channel, she's become an exquisite photographer, creating indelible images that truly force you to come closer and delve deeper within. Her work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions in museums and galleries around the country, and her book Fantasy Life will be out next spring from Aperture books with a foreword by Dave Eggers.
I was first attracted to her Surface Tension series. I assumed they were digital collages, and I was enthralled by their texture and a painterly quality I couldn't quite place. During our conversation, I found out they were actual photographs of an iPad — the painterly quality due to the trace of finger grease we leave while browsing and swiping — and I was genuinely surprised that something so beautiful could come from something so banal. For the rest of our phone conversation, we talked about starting second careers late in life, why no place is too small when you're trying to get yourself out there, and the joy of finding beauty in unexpected places.
Laia Garcia: How did your interest in photography start?
Tabitha Soren: I had been working in television since my 18th birthday; I started in New York when I was very young. After I had covered a couple of political campaigns, I got burned out, and in 1997 I accepted a yearlong fellowship at Stanford. It's called a Knight Fellowship, and basically they pay you your salary to go to school for a year, which is pretty great. Theoretically, you're supposed to dive into a particular subject very, very deeply because, of course, the wonderful thing about journalism is that you're paid to learn about new things all the time, but you learn about it on a very superficial level because things move so fast. The Knight Fellowship is supposed to be an antidote to that. While I was there I fell in love with photography and art history and spent most of my time in that department instead of where I was supposed to be.
LG: Did you have a relationship with art before that?
TS: Well, I would not call them art by any stretch of the imagination, but I've always taken pictures because I come from a military family and I chronicled where I lived, what my room was like. I have oodles of images that provide memory for me because, otherwise, I don't know that I would've been able to keep track of all the places I lived and the communities I was part of. Obviously, scrapbooks and things like that provide that service to everyone, but for me, because I was moving around every couple of years, they were even more essential.
LG: What inspired you at Stanford?
TS: I was inspired by all the photographers they were showing me, like Richard Misrach and Bob Dawson, but I was also moved by the feeling I had while I was doing the assignments for my classes. Time just evaporated. I would go in the darkroom and have no idea how much time I had spent in there. Television was very results-oriented. It was super-exciting to do an interview with Yassir Arafat and cut it together and edit it, then see it on the air, but the process was quite arduous. Photography provided me a process that was totally enjoyable.