Are You Really My Friend?: An Interview with Tanja Hollander
Portland, Maine-based photographer Tanja Hollander ambitiously sets out to photograph every single one of her over 600 “friends” on Facebook, whether they are close or distant in both world and heart, in her art project titled “Are You Really My Friend?” While many of us may have never seriously questioned the broad or particular meanings of a bloated Facebook friend list, Hollander did over two years ago when she began the art project that will have had her photographing people in at least 30 states, 10 countries, and 4 continents upon completion. Currently, the ongoing project is featured in a highly interactive exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art, where visitors can experience Hollanders’s cyber-relationships as real and personal through printed images. I was able to chat with Tanja early last Friday morning while my hair was nowhere near being in place.
Alan Van: What’s the concept behind “Are You Really My Friend?”
Tanja Hollander: It started as an exploration into what friendship is and what friendship is in this new online social networking arena–for lack of a better word. It started off because I was handwriting a letter to a friend in Afghanistan and at the same time multitasking on Facebook on New Year’s Eve instant messaging with a friend who was in Jakarta. I just started thinking a lot about friendship and what that means and how it’s really important to me as an artist. I just started scrolling through my friends on Facebook and realized that they were all from different parts of my life; and they’re a diverse group of people, and I just asked myself, “What does friendship mean? What is it about? And how do all of these different people have an influence on me in one way or another and whether that sort of thing is photographable–relationships, friendships, etcetera.”
Alan: Why is photography a good medium for what you’re exploring?
Tanja: It’s the only medium I know [laughs]. If I were a writer, I would write about it, but I’m a photographer so I try and photograph it.
Alan: So why, specifically, family portraits for this project? If it’s about your relationship with the individuals, why does it need to include family members and pets?
Tanja: Well, I think part of it is that environmental portraits are as much about the family and the home as the individual. I think relationships define who you are, so if you want to photograph who you really are, then you want your family, your pets, and you want your favorite salt and pepper shaker.