Former MTV reporter Tabitha Soren's new photo exhibition 'Relief' on view at Jackson Fine Art
Before there was YouTube and online video streaming platforms, there was MTV — “Music Television.” The channel revolutionized the way we viewed music, and it elevated the music industry in a completely new way.
Anyone who watched it in the 1990s probably saw TV reporter Tabitha Soren. The former journalist has since pivoted from news to photography, now internationally renowned for her work in the medium.
Her new exhibition, “Relief,” is currently on view at the Jackson Fine Art Gallery from Sept. 16 to Dec. 23. Soren recently sat down with “City Lights” producer Summer Evans over Zoom to talk about her body of work.
Interview highlights follow below.
Soren reflects on her time at MTV:
“It feels like, you know, my first career. I was a cub reporter, and I was a perfect person to talk to 20-year-old musicians, because I was 20 years old,” said Soren. “I went to NYU specifically to be in the media … I started working at CNN when I wasn’t in class. I really loved the mix of music and politics. I think that most people are interested in more than one thing, and I understand the benefits of having a beat as a journalist and becoming a very deep expert in a particular topic. But I also felt like, as a job, when I got tired of politicians giving me the runaround and not giving me a straight answer, or quite often just straight out lying, it was really fun. It was a nice antidote, mentally, to go and talk to musicians.”
“I think MTV had such a great response to their political coverage because we treated the audience with a lot of respect,” said Soren. “I was able to go deeper than, perhaps, when I did a piece for ‘The Today Show,’ I had to appeal to people my age, plus the normal ‘Today Show’ watchers, which go up to age 75. I felt like my reports for the more mainstream media were kind of watered down. They didn’t really allow my personality or point of view to come through; whereas MTV, it was just a very easy fit, and my enthusiasm and my natural connection to the audience, because of my age, just generated an authenticity that I felt people responded to.”
How the MTV journalist pivoted to photography:
“When I finished covering my second presidential campaign in 1996 for MTV, I was very burnt out and I was awarded a fellowship at Stanford University. I went there for a year, and theoretically, I was supposed to become a better journalist while I was there. But instead, I fell in love with photography and art history,” recounted Soren.
She went on, “I thought when I went there that I would join the documentary world. I wanted to tell longer stories; I wanted to dive deeper and get into more complicated issues, like every single other journalist on the planet. And then I met all of those documentarians in the Bay area, and they all told me about how much time they spend getting grants, and if they’re lucky, they get 15 people at a film festival watching their work. And I just thought, ‘Wow, that seems crazy. If I’m going to have no audience, I’d rather just deal with one frame at a time.'”
On Soren’s exhibition collection “Surface Tension”:
“For ‘Surface Tension,’ I was very interested in what fingerprints represented. Traces of touch are all over our devices. And so in my mind, they’re not just fingerprints, they’re signs of life … I’m assuming there might be other people listening who also feel ambivalent about this, but how much time am I spending touching my devices instead of my loved ones?” Soren added, “I really do feel like there is an opportunity cost to scrolling through these feeds for social media. I guess even if you’re not on social media, though, you live in the world that these devices have created. I feel like ‘Surface Tension’ really captures the atmosphere of our time.”
“One of the very early images was sent to me from downstairs in my house, from my daughter who was too lazy to walk up the stairs to kiss me goodnight,” Soren recalled. “I was learning all about the importance of touch and the cognitive impairment that these phones create, and of course, I’m struggling with my children using devices more than I want them to be … So at that point I marched downstairs, but at the same time, she gave me such a beautiful gift … I don’t really remember who used the iPad to create the fingerprints, but they look like bubbles. And so the fact that she’s blowing me a kiss, and then there are all these bubbles over the top of it — I just felt like that was a gift from the art gods.”
Tabitha Soren’s photography exhibit, “Relief,” is on view at Jackson Fine Art from Sept. 16 to Dec. 23. There is an artist talk at the Atlanta History Center on Thursday, Sept 15; opening at the Jackson Fine Art gallery on Friday, Sept 16 and another artist talk at the gallery on Saturday, Sept 17. More information is available at www.jacksonfineart.com/exhibitions/230-tabitha-soren-relief.