MTV lovers will recognize Tabitha Soren as the face of the channel’s 1992 Choose or Loose campaign, an effort to get young people to vote. So it may come as a surprise that Soren’s post-MTV career blossomed on the other side of the camera. “After so many years of working at 30 frames a second, the standard speed for video, I wanted to focus on one frame at a time,” Soren says. The result: a portfolio bursting with thought-provoking images that invites viewers to see sports, movement, and the outside world differently.
Soren fell in love with art photography during a 1997 graduate fellowship at Stanford University and turned that passion into a career in photojournalism. For years, the Berkeley resident worked alongside her husband, writer Michael Lewis, on shoots for Slate and The New York Times Magazine. Now, she’s branched out on her own, most recently with a well-received exhibit titled Running.
“In the Running pictures archetypal figures struggle to escape or arrive,” she says of the three-year project. The photos capture various people running across different landscapes—a waist-down shot of people running from a car wreck, for example—not the traditional spandex-clad runner. “I am attempting to make elemental fears visible. Movement provides an opportunity for loss of control, un-self-consciousness, and the pictures describe our shared instinct to survive.”
Last spring, the Kopeiken Gallery in Los Angeles exhibited Running, and the project was published in an accompanying book. The project later showed at the Klompching Gallery in Brooklyn as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Indianapolis and the Transformer Station art space in Cleveland, Ohio.
Next up for Soren: a project 11 years in the making. She’s currently wrapping up her work on Fantasy Life, a project that started as a New York Times Magazine assignment in 2002 for which she tracked 23 players from that year’s Major League Baseball draft class through Spring Training in Arizona. She decided to follow the players for the next decade-plus, usually shooting them each spring and a few other times during the year as some went on to become stars in the big leagues while other players never made it out of the minor leagues.
“It’s morphed into a look at the role of fantasy in American life and the myths that fuel it: failure leads to greatness; the individual is paramount; each one of us has a manifest destiny to distinguish ourselves.” she says. “It’s the exact opposite of a community-based societies like Japan, where the community comes first, ahead of the self.”
While she may not identify as a journalist anymore—“The pleasure I get from photography has little to do with being or having been a journalist,” she says—her images and subject matter prove that she still knows what makes for an arresting story. “Tension is the common factor in my photographs,” she says. “There’s usually some psychological conflict present.”
Shoot Like Soren
Develop Your Own Style: “Self-scrutiny is crucial to making art that is durable and truthful. Doubt and perseverance can co-exist.”
Get the Perfect Shot: “To make a photograph, look for imperfection. Everything that moves me can be found in the space where things go wrong, or fall short.”