Are You Really My Friend?: Tanja Hollander (Transcript)

Tanja Hollander at TEDxDirigo

Full text of artist Tanja Hollander’s talk: Are You Really My Friend? at TEDxDirigo conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Are you really my friend by Tanja Hollander at TEDxDirigo


This is an awesome post-it-note that somebody’s grammy left for me at the Portland museum.

In 2010 New Year’s Eve, I spent a lot of time thinking about Facebook and friendship. I was on Facebook instant messaging to a really good friend who was working on a film in Jakarta.

At the same time, I was handwriting a letter in pencil to a friend who was deployed in Afghanistan.

And I started thinking about those two friendships and how they were from really different parts of my life, but those two people were really important to me.

So I started scrolling through my list of friends on Facebook, and realized they were all over the world and from really different parts of my life. And I was also thinking about how crazy it was, I was home alone on New Year’s Eve on Facebook.

On the other hand, how awesome it was that I was talking to my friend Sandeep. I was also thinking a lot about the history of photography, the portrait, and the great American road trip.

I was thinking a lot about Robert Frank’s historical book, The Americans who spent a year traveling in the 50s during the Civil Rights Movement, photographing what real Americans were.

So I’m one of those kind of people that acts before they think, and I decided I was going to go and photograph all 626 of my Facebook friends in their homes all over the world.

I had about $50 in the bank, and I was working three-day jobs because the art market as you know collapsed. But I decided I was going to do it anyways.

So I figured out where everybody lived, made a spreadsheet in this graph, green is Maine, yellow is New York, orange is Massachusetts, red is Missouri, or maybe that’s California, then Missouri and then the rest of the world.

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And I wrote a grant, launched a fundraiser, emailed my friends and crossed my fingers.

The first person to respond to my email was Samantha Appleton, she’s the ex-girlfriend of a really close friend of mine about 15 years ago and we had stayed in contact somewhat. She’s also a photographer and was currently one of four of Obama’s photographers in the White House.

She responded and said that she loved my project, that I could stay with her when I came to DC, she would buy a print and give me a tour of the West Wing. Was that an okay trade?

I said done and done, booked my ticket enough out to get Secret Service clearing and headed to DC.

When I was at the airport, she was texting me frantically because it was the day that the government was about to shut down and she didn’t know if she was going to have a job by the time I got to DC.

She ended up having a job and I got my amazing tour of the West Wing. She showed me around DC and introduced me to her friends and it was one of the most amazing experiences, this person that I only knew peripherally became a close friend and also a huge supporter of the project.

It was an incredible way to start out this project with such kindness and generosity and at the White House. This is the formal portrait I did of Samantha while I was there.

I’ve traveled to almost 20 states by plane, train, car, commuter rail, subway, bus, trolley. In this photograph I jumped in the white truck which looks like an ordinary delivery truck but a friend converted it into a traveling letterpress studio. And she’s traveling around the country doing workshops with people out of this delivery truck teaching them old timey press.

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