How well do you know your Facebook friends? Sure, some of them will write on your wall on your birthday, but would they let you celebrate your birthday in their home? Does your long-lost grade school BFF still want a friendship with you beyond ‘liking’ the occasional status update?
Photographer Tanja Hollander is approaching her Facebook friendships in a unique way, attempting to visit all of her friends and photograph them in their homes, getting a real-life glimpse into the lives of many people she used to only see online. It’s a project she’s calling “Are You Really My Friend?”. Venturing far from her home in Auburn, Maine, Hollander says she’s been on basically every form of transportation in her pursuit of friendship. She uploads the photos to Facebook, her blog, and various places on the Web, and will compile them into an exhibit when she’s finished with the project.
“I think one of the really interesting things about social media and Facebook in general is that everyone uses it in different ways in different times in their lives.”
“The main reason I chose Facebook is because when I came up with the idea, I was instant messaging a friend who was working on a film in Jakarta on Facebook, and that got me thinking about friendship in the time of social media. I just started scrolling through my list of Facebook friends. But even though it started on Facebook, I wouldn’t say the project is necessarily about Facebook. It’s more of a vehicle, or a medium, in a way.”
Since she thought up the project on New Years Eve in 2010, Hollander has photographed nearly 350 Facebook friends, and this year she plans to begin the international leg of her journey and continue traveling and catching up with the people she knows from all around the world. Hollander has gained lots of Facebook friends on her journeys, but she’s working off the spreadsheet she made when she first started – the original 600 or so friends she browsed through and wondered about in 2010.
Hollander reached out to all of her friends and waited to see who responded. “I give people three ways of communication. If I don’t have their phone number, I email, then I Facebook message and I post on their wall. If they don’t respond to any of that, then I unfriend them. I’d say that’s been a really small percentage of people,” she says.
Some of Hollander’s acquaintances showed far more enthusiasm for the project than she anticipated, and she remains in awe of how generous and excited people were to participate, even when she hadn’t seen them in a while. “I think one of the really interesting things about social media and Facebook in general is that everyone uses it in different ways in different times in their lives. There are some people who comment all the time and some people who never comment at all, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t paying attention. I was taken aback by people who knew where I was in the project and had been following along but I had no idea because they hadn’t commented to me,” she says. “And then some of my closest friends didn’t take part in it, which I just assumed as a given that they would – that was really surprising.”
The project is at around the half-way mark. “I’m hoping to get shooting done within the next year or so, but then it’ll probably at least another year of post-production. I just confirmed concluding the whole project at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and that’ll open the beginning of 2017, so everything will definitely done by then,” she says.