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Tanja Hollander Are you really my friend?


  • Exhibition

  • February 18, 2017 - February 11, 2018
  • Galleries

In 2011, Maine-based photographer Tanja Alexia Hollander set out to differentiate the actual from the virtual by photographing all 626 of her Facebook friends. Following, she traveled across the globe, setting up in-person meetings in her friends’ homes to discover the ways in which friendship is defined, and how permission is granted into one’s private — yet also very public — online life. Through this project, the artist was able to take the virtual out of friendship.


What began as a personal documentary on friendship and environmental portraiture turned into an exploration of contemporary culture, relationships, generosity and compassion, family structure, community-building, storytelling, meal-sharing, the economy and class, the relationship between technology and travel in the 21st century, social networking, memory, and the history of the portrait. To accomplish this, Hollander followed in the footsteps of the Farm Security Administration photographers, such as Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, who documented the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. She was also informed by Robert Frank’s The Americans, an iconic book of photography from 1958, which documents postwar America. Like these historic photographers, Hollander set out to see America and the world. She records how society uses photography, the portrait, and social media to create and define a 21st-century existence.

While Hollander had presented segments of this working project at galleries and museums throughout the world, Are you really my friend? premiered in its entirety at MASS MoCA. Visitors to the museum could expect to find a mix of photographs, video, data visualization/mining, travelogue, and landscape images, along with an interactive element that asked viewers to define what a real friend means to them. In the end, the project, while rooted in Facebook, went beyond the superficial to explore ideas of interpersonal connections, travel, and community in today’s world.

Tanja Alexia Hollander was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1972. She received a B.A. in photography, film, and feminist studies from Hampshire College in 1994.  Sections of Are you really my friend? were recently exhibited at the Portland Museum of Art (Maine), Virei Viral (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), and the Carl-Schurz-Haus (Freiberg, Germany). Receiving international media attention for the project, Hollander was invited to give a TEDxDirigo talk in 2012 and has lectured extensively at Demanio Marittimo.Km-278 (Marzocca, Italy), the University of Maryland, Clemson University, SXSW, and Facebook headquarters. Hollander is represented by Carroll and Sons in Boston, Massachusetts. She is currently a resident of Auburn, Maine.

Further Reading
Are you really my friend?
“How Real Are Facebook Friendships?,” Jacoba Urist, The Atlantic, February 4, 2015

Melody, Ike + Zachary Nwangburuka, Converse, Texas
Archival pigment print, 2015, 42 × 42”

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