The faces of Facebook: One woman's journey to get to know her 'friends'
“Am I really friends with all these people?”
Having accumulated 626 friends on Facebook, the question dawned on Tanja Alexia Hollander one pensive New Years Eve. Some Face-friends Ms. Hollander had never met in “real life.” Others she didn’t speak to beyond Facebook. There were ex-lovers with new partners, ex-partners of friends, and high school friends she hadn’t seen in 20 years.
In February of 2011, the Portland, Maine-based photographer decided to get better acquainted with the people in her digital feed, travelling by plane, train, subway, bus, car, bike and on foot to take formal portraits of each Facebook friend at their home. With subjects scattered over four continents, Ms. Hollander has shot 200 of them so far with a Hasselblad camera from the early 1970s.
“Are you really my friend? The FB portrait project” examines whether Facebook gives a false sense of community. So far, the answer is no: Ms. Hollander said she’s been taken aback by the hospitality of both friends and strangers on her wall, who have housed and fed her with little to gain.
“I have crawled on the floor, played Lego and read books with children I just met, admired chickens and prize roosters, shared a bowl of gumbo in New Orleans with a friend I hadn’t met in real life … and listened to stories of family tragedy and strength,” Ms. Hollander, 39, wrote on her website.
She spoke with The Globe and Mail from Maine just before departing on another leg of the project.
You struck on this idea when you were Facebooking with one friend in Jakarta while writing a letter to another in Afghanistan.
I was home alone on New Year’s Eve, handwriting a letter in pencil to my friend in Afghanistan. At the same time, I was instant messaging on Facebook with a friend in Indonesia who I had spent many a New Year’s with. I started scrolling through my list of friends and realized they were all over the world, in very different parts of their lives and from diverse backgrounds, in terms of how I knew them: art world friends, college friends, high school friends, friends from first grade. When starting the project, I sent an e-mail to everybody, which is actually quite a difficult thing to do.