In her twenties Tabitha Soren was one of the faces of MTV News, “a very loud, pressure-filled time for me” she confesses. Now, that time she spent in front of the camera stands as a marked difference to how she uses it today; winking through a lens, working with one frame of narrative-laden potential at a time. We last featured her ongoing Uprooted project, photographs that see her return to the same spots in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina struck, and now with her large-scale Running series on show at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (iMOCA), we caught up with her to hear more about where these dramatic, landscape-interrupted works arrived from.
Hi Tabitha, can you tell us how you came to move from television to photography – had you studied it priorly?
I was born into a US Air Force military family but grew up all over the world. Snapshots were one of the few ways I had to remember the details that made up my life in the last town or base – so I took them incessantly and spent many afternoons cataloguing them.The process of photographing is such a pleasure: my eyes are open. I am receptive, sensing, and at some point, connecting. It’s thrilling to be outside my mind with my eyes far ahead of my thoughts. No other facet of my life is like that – and television was the opposite of that. As a reporter, I needed to be aggressively seeking a story on deadline.
In my mind, there are also huge similarities. I was shooting video at 30 frames a second. Now I am simply limiting myself to one frame at a time. Also, I am no longer working with breaking news footage. Instead, I am creating things that I want to see but, I hope, there is still a lot of truth in them.
There is plenty of space for the viewer to read into the Running series as to why and where these people are going – was there a particular concept or fiction when you came to take the first photo?
The first picture developed out of something more random. The atmosphere of a location near a rented house in Hawaii spoke to me. My daughter was willing to get up before dawn to model as long as she didn’t have to change out of her nightgown. I didn’t have lights so I drove the car into the driveway and turned on the headlights. I felt like the running movement made the subject seem like she had something at stake and part of me did feel like I was trapping my daughter inside the frame. Once I saw that picture (Running 444812, 2011), I started thinking about panic, resilience and the role of accident in life.
Also, when people are running their bodies contort and we get to glimpse emotions that are normally kept hidden. As the series continues, I’m trying to acknowledge the breadth of the world unseen beyond the frame, while caging my subjects inside (as my daughter was in the original image).
The project has expanded into a comment on photography as an art form. The pictures are a combination of constructed artifice and uncontrolled movement. I am not a runner myself and the project, for me, has little to do with athleticism (My models, however, may disagree because they get such a workout during the shoots!).
“I felt like the running movement made the subject seem like she had something at stake and part of me did feel like I was trapping my daughter inside the frame.”
Is there any significance as to the location or even the runners or how they are running – were they directed as it were?
Photography confronts constructed realities, myths and beliefs and provides what appears to be evidence of a truth. We all just keep shooting until we get something that we can’t ignore. There are multiple truths attached to every image depending on the viewer, the intention of the creator and the context in which it’s presented. I don’t have a particular narrative in mind when I begin shooting. I do direct subjects a bit (no looking at the camera, smiling has never really looked anything but corny but in the beginning I did attempt this) once we agree on the places that they will start running and end running.
What comes to mind is Philip-Lorca DiCorcia’s quote on this subject: “The more specific interpretation suggested by a picture, the less I am happy with it.” That said, I realise that you can’t shoot someone in the Wall Street area of New York City without also bringing up of the tragedy of September 11. However, the subject of that RUNNING picture (Running 000329) is one of my closest friends and because of things that were going on in his life, I let him choose the location, the wardrobe and the time of day. He works in the movie business so I knew he wouldn’t steer me totally wrong. I started with one thought: I wanted him, as I do all my subjects, to look like they had something at stake. Those are the people who interest me in real life and those are the people I want to portray in my art.
Is this exhibition a close to the series and do you plan to continue with it? Any plans to exhibit any of your other series?
The iMOCA exhibit is a beginning to the series, actually. My next project is making a photo book with the Running images and trying to get it published. That means I’m still shooting people running as well as ancillary images to help readers develop their own narrative ideas for the individual pictures. I’d love for the book to merge into one implied story but I can’t say right know whether or not I’ll be able to pull that off. I am also very hopeful that I can exhibit the iMOCA RUNNING show somewhere else in the United States or the UK, where my husband and I spend a lot of time and are self-confessed Anglophiles, to be sure.
PANIC BEACH is showing at BAYVAN gallery in Oakland, California this summer as well. A much smaller endeavour: 6 C-prints plus one image printed on fabric that is 17-feet-tall and hangs from the ceiling, flowing out in to the floor of the gallery (with any luck, resembling a wave – fingers crossed!),
Running will be showing as part of Natural World at the iMOCA until July 21.