Former MTV journalist Tabitha Soren brings her new focus on photography to Atlanta

Trading the perpetual chaos of the news cycle for the rich gray area of contemporary photography has been a satisfying shift.

You might remember Tabitha Soren as the brainy ginger who walked and talked with Tupac Shakur on Venice Beach in 1995 in her high-profile role at MTV News. It was one of her most zeitgeisty MTV moments in a journalism career defined by high-profile interviews with luminaries from Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton to Mariah Carey and Alice in Chains.

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

In an America founded on upward trajectories, Soren’s transformation in the late ‘90s from a Gen X cultural icon and nationally known journalist to a contemporary photographer might seem like a perplexing downsizing.

“I realized taking yourself off television is almost un-American at this point,” says Soren. Locals can see the results of Soren’s career change in her first Atlanta photo exhibition this fall at Buckhead’s Jackson Fine Art which will feature three bodies of Soren’s contemplative, psychologically fraught work, “Surface Tension,” “Running” and “Relief.”

For Soren, photography has been a natural and also satisfying new direction.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Over the course of an 11 year stint working as a journalist at MTV, NBC and ABC, Soren says “I felt like I had told every ‘who, what, when, where and why’ story that I had in me. And I wanted to include more gray area, more nuance.”

During a 1997 journalism fellowship at Stanford University she stumbled into art, and discovered she was more of an introvert than her past life trading witticisms with the members of Soundgarden suggested. At Stanford she also connected with Diane Arbus’s nephew, art scholar Alexander Nemerov. Nemerov’s interdisciplinary approach, forging connections between art, politics and history resonated with Soren.

Moving into first editorial, and then, fine art photography offered “the total joy of learning something brand new,” says Soren. And rather than racing from story to story in her previous life as a television journalist, she suddenly had time to go deep in her Berkeley, California, home studio. It also allowed her the ability to balance work with motherhood and raising their children with her husband, author Michael Lewis (“Moneyball,” “The Big Short”).

Since leaving journalism, Soren has dedicated herself to more internal work. “In my mind, my intention is actually always to be photographing a psychological state,” she says.

Sometimes that interiority is Soren’s own.

“The dark, moody, messy and anxious states in my work are definitely relevant to my own psychological state,” she says.

But sometimes they are just the universal, daily anxieties of being human, “the twists and turns of life that can unhinge us,” says Soren.

Credit: Tabitha Soren

Credit: Tabitha Soren

In her series “Surface Tension” on view at Jackson Fine Art, she photographed images on iPad screens through a scrim of sweat, grease and fingerprints — all the grubbiness of the human presence that marks those screens. “The dichotomy of the human being pressed up against the cold digital screen, I think, really gets at the sort of joyless urgency of our time,” she says.

“Those are things that you really can’t take a picture of, right? So you have to find a device to use as a metaphor.”

Credit: Tabitha Soren

Credit: Tabitha Soren

In her “Running” series that device comes in images of men and women bolting through cityscapes, down lonely dirt roads or through fields in the kind of “fight or flight” response that Soren says has become especially resonant in the COCID-19 era. In her latest project “Relief,” Soren etches, burns and cuts the surface of her photographs to shatter photography’s illusory rendering of reality.

Credit: Tabitha Soren

Credit: Tabitha Soren

In some ways that inward focus laced with doom was hard-wired into Soren, the child of a career Air Force officer. “I think that growing up in the military really made threat a part of daily life. And so it is central to my psychology.”

She laughs that her Irish-Catholic heritage only magnified that angst.

But existential navel-gazing is, it turns out, a skill set the art world rewards. Now 55, Soren has had her own brand of art world success with work in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum and the New Orleans Museum of Art among others.

But there were sacrifices too. “it’s not like I didn’t give up anything by moving to the art world,” she says.

“It’s a much smaller place. But I do feel like I have time to spend really parsing out the complexities that life presents us with.”


“Tabitha Soren: Relief”

Through Dec. 23. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. By appointment only. Free. Jackson Fine Art, 3115 East Shadowlawn Ave., Atlanta. 404-233-3739, jacksonfineart.com.