Tabitha Soren considers the condition of our interaction with images of crisis on our screens

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“The edit is urgent, almost apocalyptic. ”

Since 2014, Tabitha Soren has been photographing her ipad tablet screen with an 8×10 look at camera in raking lighting to reveal the residue left behind by her finger prints as images from the girl social media, text messages, or web history appear below. “ The subjects pictured beneath the surface record our culture while the smears associated with fingerprints record our lives, our flitting attentions, ” explains Soren. “They map how we spend our time. ” Many of us spent the last year tethered to our computers, phones, and tablets — often the just means of connecting with family members, our communities, and the planet at large — imbuing Soren’s project, Surface Tension , with increased poignance and meaning. The work requests us to critically think about the time we spend ingested by these technologies and the implications surrounding this embrace mediated experience.

© Tabitha Soren.

This month, Paris-based RVB Books released a monograph devoted to Surface Tension . Though the overall scope of this multi-year project is broad, the book necessitated the narrow selection. “The modify is very urgent, almost apocalyptic, ” says Soren. “After the Book of Job year we all experienced thanks to Covid-19, we felt that sticking to the images that will screamed ‘emergency’ made one of the most sense. ”

In the front cover, fingerprints mix with billowing, black smoke. Long, iridescent smudges within the back cover feel meteoric, like falling stars, since two cars burn within the background. Flipping through the guide, images of landscapes and buildings ablaze, protestors within the streets, police lights, plus officers creating human barricades overwhelm the viewer.

“The social injustice plus environmental destruction images just about all have the same tone plus made the sequencing quite seamless, ” Soren proceeds. “It is an understatement to express that we humans are not succeeding. I wanted the book’s sequence to reflect that. ” 

© Tabitha Soren.

“The human markings are seemingly at odds with the icy detachment and objectivity of the information that flows in the direction of us, unrelentingly. If I do not amplify them, this disagreement won’t be pronounced enough. ”

In exhibitions, Soren’s Surface Tension pictures are large, even monumental, in scale, forcing the viewer to confront visceral proof — the “oily, sloppy, teary and sweaty” seeing that she describes it — of our untiring interactions with all the screens of our devices. “The human markings are seemingly at odds with the wintry detachment and objectivity of the information that flows towards us, unrelentingly, ” the girl explains. “If I don’t amplify them, this conflict won’t be pronounced enough. ”

S oren and RVB adeptly translate this experience through the walls, conveying the project’s concerns through the book moderate. Closed, the book is definitely slightly larger than the average iPad, which enables easy sampling into the richly textured photographs, while alluding to the level and experience of the device. Extremely glossy paper and UV varnish is used throughout and the reproductions are surrounded simply by thin, black borders, also evoking tablet and cell phone screens. Full-page reproductions where the on-screen content is relatively legible are combined with highly magnified details emphasising the physicality of our interactions with these gadgets, eschewing obvious context.

“There are one or two places where the complete image is certainly never shown, ” the girl tells me. “At first, the reaction was to try to find a place for the full frame image in the book. However , We grew to like the relationship between only showing glimpses, details in the case of a book, from the scene. It was conceptually germane to connect the superficial connection with experiencing life online to the partial details we selected for the book. ” 

© Tabitha Soren.

© Tabitha Soren.

In her article for Surface Tension , Jia Tolentino writes: “We want desperately to be human in the face of our own cold inanimate translator. We hope that somehow the act of witnessing will make us more human, and not much less. ” Reading this for the first time, Soren recalls thinking, “‘yes! That is it! That’s what I have learned spending six years making this work. ’ It was as if she was inside my brain…. ” The particular disquieting message underlying Soren’s seductive work will remind me to be truly current during upcoming in-person plus real-world engagements and to positively reflect on the effects of my significant screen time.

© Tabitha Soren.

Allie Haeusslein

Allie Haeusslein is the Associate Director of Pier 24 Photography in San Francisco. She is involved in all facets of the museum’s operations including curating exhibitions and conceiving journals.

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