Tabitha Soren Captures the Other Side of Baseball in New Book

Tabitha Soren outside her darkroom in Berkeley. (Photo: Kevin L. Jones/KQED)

During her eight years with MTV News, Tabitha Soren brought journalistic gravitas to a network that focused on celebrity and drama. Her interview with Tupac Shakur still stands as one of his most insightful, and her coverage of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign earned MTV News a Peabody Award.

After leaving MTV in 1998, Soren moved to the Bay Area with her husband, the author Michael Lewis. While he worked on books like The New New Thing, Soren attended Stanford on a fellowship, spending most of her time in the fine arts department. She decided she wanted to become a photographer -- pursuing art with her camera instead of news, Soren said, allowed her to be more honest.

"It’s coming from my heart instead of my head. Journalism was about searching for an objective truth, and my artwork is searching for an emotional truth," Soren said.

In 2003, Soren attended the Oakland Athletics' Spring Training camp while her husband researched the team for his book Moneyball. Though she wasn’t a fan of baseball at the time, seeing the team's new recruits inspired her to start a massive project.

Tin Type of a player on the Stockton Ports
Tintype of a player on the Stockton Ports. (Photo: Tabitha Soren)

"I met a draft class who was arriving at Spring Training for the very first time," Soren said. "And I saw all these kids with their faces full of hope, all going to work towards playing on a major league team, and I thought, 'Wow, wouldn’t this be great to shoot their picture every year and see how their faces change, because they can’t remain this hopeful.'"

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That idea, born 14 years ago, comes to fruition with her newest book of photographs, Fantasy Life. Her idea of chronicling the players losing faith in the game didn’t pan out; the changes weren’t as visual as she hoped. But what Soren did find was a whole other world built around what she once thought was America’s most boring pastime.

"Even the guys in the dugout, they looked so bored in half of my pictures, making sculptures out of peanut shells or tobacco cans," Soren said. "You know, the things that go on in there are not scintillating."

But Soren found a way to bring out the more artistic qualities of the game. She experimented with tintype, a technology first developed in the 1860s. It made for beautiful images that, unlike other sports photographs, didn’t depend on action or celebrity. Fantasy Life collects the best of those tintypes as well as an assortment of other photos she took at games -- both major and minor league -- all over the state.

For baseball fans, Fantasy Life provides a look at star players you won't get from ESPN, and that's thanks to Billy Beane, the executive vice president of baseball operations for the Oakland A's, who gave Soren complete access to the team during her 14-year project. Beane said he's not much of an art fan, but that there was plenty for him to appreciate in Soren's photographs.

"When I was able to look back at her exhibition, and knowing all the time she put into it -- I’m going “God, she’s putting a lot of time into it this. What are going to be the results?” But looking back at it now, it sort of acts as a time capsule," Beane said.

Read more about Soren's baseball photos in our previous story. Nearly 200 photos from Fantasy Life will be on display at San Francisco City Hall from July 20–Dec. 15, 2017, across two floors -- including many players from the San Francisco Giants -- and admission is free.

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