While you might revile a smudged, dirty iPhone screen (or put off cleaning your own), photographer Tabitha Soren sees it as art — and through her work she’s questioning our dependence on it at the same time.
In a meta twist on photography, for her new show “Surface Tension,” Soren found photographs online, displayed them on an iPad screen, and added her own (artistically placed) fingerprint smudges — then she photographed the screen. Her photos of photos are a weird, playful take on how most of the internet is fake. “It’s hard to keep track of what are facts and fiction,” she said. “One of the aspects of the project is to bring up the idea that there is a lot of appropriation going on thanks to the internet.”
Each photograph’s title is a URL to the original photos, taken by people including her daughter and strangers who agreed to participate. Soren created the images last year while closely following the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Facebook’s testimony before Congress. Below, she discusses the meaning behind a few photographs in the show.
“Surface Tension” is on view at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, until June 9, 2019.
This photo represents the rabbit hole of Amazon shopping, and the internet in general: “All of us go from Amazon to a [product link], and then you forget to buy it because an email pops up, and then a text pops up on your phone, and you forget to respond to the email, and then you end up back on a click-bait website … I’ve been late for appointments because I get caught up in that sort of thing.”
This is about a sense of touch. “There are a lot of examples of harmful touch in [my] project: the harmful and legal touch of Harvey Weinstein, the brutal touch of the police and their treatment of Michael Brown and Ferguson. [By contrast], when we think of a touch of compassion or stress-relief, it brings down the cortisol in your body, and I thought this picture took care of that in a really lovely way. You feel the sense of relief and support that an exchange between two people can create.”
“The two activities that Americans spend the most time online with are porn and cat videos. In most cases your serotonin levels go up after a certain amount of time with those two activities. They are both very intimate relationships, but virtual … I didn’t mean to do this, but the more I shot the more I started seeing these patterns where their mouths would be in the same position in an image, or the colors would be similar.”
“This is just a funny picture my daughter sent to me in traffic … It certainly makes you stop and question: is there a man in the trunk of that car?”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.