It'll be up to the viewer, as always, to draw parallels between the art of Tabitha Soren and Min Kim Park, collected in a show, The Natural World, opening Friday at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art. What's for sure is that both artists' work is concerned with the human body, clothed and unclothed, in comfortable poses and sprinting for the hills.
Soren's contribution to the show, Running, is a series of photographs of ordinary people running - seemingly for their lives - in a variety of environments that seem to offer no immediate danger. Park's Finding a Pose, which like Soren's Running will see its debut at iMOCA, is a video series depicting naked women of various ages and ethnicities trying to meet Park's directive of "finding a perfect pose that best describes them."
We can point to another key similarity between the two artists: Both worked as journalists before they became transitioned to the world of fine arts. The South Korea-born Park, who worked at Korea News Daily and the Korean American Broadcasting Company in Chicago, is currently an assistant professor of photography at Purdue. (Park was still editing her videos during the week before this article went to press, so it wasn't a good time for her to answer interview questions.)
And Soren, a household name as an MTV News reporter in the '90s, has transitioned into a new incarnation as a fine art photographer. Her Running was a three-year-long project, shot in 15 states, as well as Mexico and Canada, over the past three years, with Soren often using her friends as models. Those friends were photographed in a variety of environments - a shallow lake, city street or along a row of trees in a darkened suburb.
Theres's a lot left to the imagination with Soren's photographs: Models could be running toward something or away. But the naked expressions seen on their faces - which seem to range from desire to panic - suggest that the camera has captured them during a moment of no little significance. And, hey, there's another concept to think about when seeing The Natural World - the idea of nakedness, both emotional and physical, and the way it informs work by both artists.
Soren, who lives in Berkeley, Calif., with her husband Michael Lewis (author of Liar's Poker and Moneyball) and their three children, will be on hand for the opening reception. She fielded a few questions by phone last Wednesday.
NUVO: One thing about your Running project is that the subjects are not running for sport. There's an element of panic in some of your photographs. Are there personal fears that you are addressing in this work?
Tabitha Soren: No. Obviously the artist's experiences have something to do with how the art turns out. But I felt like I was trying to make pictures that were very primal in a society that's not, where all the subjects had something at stake; they're ready for a course of action that only they can know what that is. It had less to do with my own biography than people, human beings at large having to deal with grave situations where they have something at stake.
NUVO: One of the photographs shows a man in a business suit running outside the Manhattan Business Center. The subject is looking back at something clearly causing him alarm. Yet, other people on the street are going about their business per usual. It reminds me of stories I heard about 9/11, where traders in the South Tower, even though they saw the conflagration in the North Tower, weren't able to abandon their job.
Soren: Well you can't be in the Wall Street area without thinking of 9/11. However, I wasn't thinking of something very specific about the World Trade Center and terrorism. For me, the whole series is about you're pushing yourself through life to the next step. It's about issues of mortality and anxiety and general unease in the world. I would say your reading of the photograph makes sense to me, but I can't say that I was thinking about that when I was taking the pictures. As I'm sure you know, when you're taking pictures in the middle of the street ... you're worried about getting hit by a car or you're worried about them being hit by a car. The background action was not under my control so I needed to take pictures until both parts of the picture were lined up. There are many pictures where people are staring at the camera or pointing at the camera or being obnoxious New Yorkers. So I felt with that one I got really lucky.