On New Year’s Eve, 2010, Maine-based photographer Tanja Hollander sat in her apartment, handwriting a letter to a friend deployed in Afghanistan; instant-messaging a friend in Jakarta; and perusing the status updates of her 636 Facebook friends. It made her think about friendship and intimacy in the digital age. Could her connections to these people, some of whom she’d never met in person or hadn’t seen for years, be photographed? And how would the nature of their friendship change once she ventured into their homes, trading Facebook for face time?
Caitlin Winn (Atlanta, Georgia)
Hollander was inspired Robert Frank’s The Americans, the history of portrait photography and the great American road trip. She chose to depict people in their own homes because friendship, she thought when she started the project, happens in the flesh. “A real friend is someone whom you have over for dinner, drink too much red wine with, argue about art, politics, or whatever with and are still friends in the morning.”
For last three years, Hollander has been answering those questions, culminating in her project called
Are You Really My Friend. Hollander’s mission is to photograph all her Facebook friends in their own homes, all around the world, to figure out what friendship means in the age of social media. She now has 1304 Facebook friends, 375 of whom she’s photographed in 43 states, 150 cities, and six countries. Their homes range from high-modern to tricked-out delivery truck.
Emily and Will Brown (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Along the way she found that, “People are really proud of where they live. They are excited to show me around their house, garden, favorite restaurant, museum, park,” she says. “I’ve been invited into so many homes and given tours of so many communities that it’s been a collaboration with my friends.”
Friederike Hamann (Berlin, Germany)
Hollander was rarely surprised by people’s homes, and they rarely changed her image of who these friends are or would be. “There are all of these alarmist headlines about how people online aren't who they are in real life, that they ‘curate’ personas,” she says. “But we all curate in real life as well.”
Jay Kelly (Queens, New York)
“Artists tend to build their spaces on really small budgets or by trading, so these incredible places are actually super low budget,” Hollander says. “I get a lot of comments about how I'm photographing the upper middle class, and it couldn't be farther from the truth. I think when you know how to make beautiful things, it doesn't matter if it's a painting or a dining room table.”
Henry, Moira, and Jack Tarmy (Brunswick, Maine)
Many of the people she photographed lived in modern homes. “Most of the artists lean towards a modern aesthetic, but in New England, and Maine specifically, that usually comes with a focus on lots of natural light, windows without curtains, and a definite use of recycled/found materials,” she says.
Brittany Marcoux & Brian McGuire (Swansea, Massachusetts)
An old intern of Hollander’s, Brittany, and her husband Brian, renovated the apartment above Brittany’s mom's beauty salon in Swanswea, MA, outside of Providence—one of Hollander’s favorite spaces in the project. “Brittany was really nervous that their place wasn't as cool as everyone else’s,” says Hollander. “But it was amazing: small, but so well designed, with little touches like glitter paint on the kitchen counter and wall drawings that gave it a sense of thoughtfulness.”
Kyle Durrie (Brooklyn, New York)
Another of her favorite spaces belonged to Kyle, who converted an old linen truck into a traveling letterpress studio. “She drove around the country for a year in the Type Truck, teaching people how to make prints,” says Hollander. “Every inch of that truck had a purpose and was so well designed, from her bunk to the drawers of type.”
Juli & Kanishka Raja (New York, New York)
“I think I went into this pretty cynical: there is no way all of these people are ‘real friends.’ But as I travelled, shared meals or drinks with people, learned about their lives and communities, I started to realize that there are different kinds of friendship,” says Hollander. “There are the folks we meet for beers, the ones we see art with, the ones we talk politics with, the ones we call in the middle of the night. The ones we Skype with, the ones we text, the ones we run into at the grocery store. You can have amazing conversations and learn from them all.”
Yuki Murata, Chris Long, Ren and Tei Murata-Long (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
People whom she had never met in life became her real friends as she worked on the project. The biggest take away: “I have learned to say yes to everything.”