I emailed her and asked if I could photograph her which was slightly awkward. What was even more awkward was I had about $100 to make this trip, and so I asked if I could stay with her, and she warmly said yes.
And then the next couple of weeks planned our itinerary for the weekend. So I showed up and she lived with her sister in this small two bedroom apartment and she slept in her sister’s room and gave me her room. They’re on their way to a party and said, look we bought you beer and wine, the food is stocked, make yourself at home, here are the keys, we’ll see you in the morning, which was amazing. My friends don’t even give me keys to their apartment.
And the next day, she took me to lunch at an art dealers house and then to the rodeo with her extended family, it was a real Texas experience. I’ve been fed great meals and learned the dinner table rules.
This project started out as a really personal documentary and I thought that’s what it was going to be for me, but I’ve realized I’ve been invited into so many homes and then given tours of so many communities. It’s really becoming a collaboration between my friends. And every time I exhibit it and talk about and show it, it also becomes a collaboration with you, the audience.
The Art Institute of Chicago, it was the first time I’d ever heard anybody read a white label out loud. And this elderly gentleman was in front of a Lewis Hine factory labor photograph, and read it out loud to his grandson about how important labor laws are, and child labor laws specifically in unions. And he was really thankful that his son was able to go to school and not to a factory.
And I just sat there awestruck listening to this elderly gentleman talk to his grandson, and realized that the experiences that I was having and the things that I was seeing and doing and meticulously blogging about are as important as the final portrait itself.
Scott Tony was a mentor to my little sister when she worked in a restaurant in Boston. And after I was lucky enough to be in New Orleans during Jazz Fest photographing, I emailed my friends and said if there are any community events happening, I’ll try and schedule my travel around what’s going on in your town.
And Scott wrote back and said this isn’t exactly a fun community event, but my niece died last year, and it’s the year anniversary of her death, and there’s a domestic violence Bike-A-thon happening, maybe you would want to come for that.
So I planned to go for that and the scheduling ended up not working. But as he’s sitting there cooking me lunch, he told me the story of one of those awful murder suicides that you only read about in the paper where his niece was shot by her father. He shot his sister Jodi, Jodi miraculously survived and then killed himself.
And as he’s telling me the story, he’s telling me about how the community cooked them dinner, filled up their oil tanks, and really wrapped their arms around the entire family to help them get through this hard time, and he moved back to Weston to help his sister cope with this as well.
And when she came home from working out at the gym and physical therapy, I realized how important it was that she’d be in the photograph as well.
I’ve learned to trust not only small children with my camera, very expensive camera, but also trust that this idea is actually a good one and going to hundreds and hundreds of homes is going to work out.
Learn to say yes to everything, whether it’s coffee with a new friend, dinner with an old friend, or some kind of crazy event somebody’s trying to convince me to go to, I’ve stopped making excuses. I’m too tired, or just want to have a night at home alone, or whatever excuses we all come up not to engage in real life with our friends or new friends because I never know what amazing story I’m going to hear or event I’m going to see that will actually be life changing.
Never in a million years would I think I would be on the stairs at the Philadelphia Art Museum doing the Electric Slide in the rain with hundreds of strangers.
So this project has raised more questions for me than I am able to answer. But some of the things that I’ve been thinking about are what our real life friends, what do we all mean to each other? How has our online relationships changed our real-life relationships and vice versa?
So I just want everybody to think about those things in the way that I’m trying to think about them and understand them. I don’t know if there’s a yes or no or black or white answer.
Download This Post as PDF file here: Are You Really My Friend__ Tanja Hollander (Transcript)