Surface Tension, one of three series on view in Tabitha Soren’s exhibition at Jackson Fine Art through December 23, features photographs of images taken from news stories or social media, viewed on an iPad and photographed in a way that highlights the fingerprint smudges on the glass. The work, Soren explained in a talk at the Atlanta History Center, is about our futile attempts to connect with those who are encapsulated in pixels. The photographs are printed at a large scale, so that the fingerprints and the pixels of the original images are magnified, and the size serves to amplify the visceral response to seeing the often-invisible grime made visible. There is something panicky and relatable about the smudges, a desperation for closeness that comes through in the oily smears. A similar sense of distress pervades the images in the series Running. The mood of these pictures evokes the photographs of one of Soren’s influences, Gregory Crewdson – full of anxiety, dread, and unspecified American unease. But the photographs’ ambiguous narrative is, in some ways, the most compelling part of the work. What are Soren’s subjects running from? The lighting and composition of Nicholas, Running 001201 (2012) and Amy, Running 000823 (2011) bring to mind film stills from the climax of some forgotten horror film. Eric, Running 006007 (2012), or perhaps more accurately “Eric, Falling,” is particularly effective in its use of landscape and scale, as a dying tree looms ominously over the protagonist.
Of the three series on view, Relief, Soren’s most recent work, spanning from 2018 to the present, seems the least developed. The photographs are pretty – a sunset, a field at dawn, a beautiful woman – but their surfaces have been burned or punctured or otherwise distressed. The images seem to lean on those surface imperfections to act as an aesthetic or narrative hook.
In her talk at the Atlanta History Center, Soren referenced the author Marilynne Robinson’s lament regarding the “joyless urgency” of our times as an inspiration for many of the themes in her work. Robinson contends that the cost of technological dependence is the very joy of living, and our attempts to move faster and more efficiently through time and space leads to dread, anxiety, and alienation from one another. Soren’s photographs, particularly Running and Surface Tension, dance around these ideas.