By Andrea Bennett | April 18, 2017 | Culture
Photographer Tanja Hollander travels the world asking, "Are you really my friend?" and gets more than 400 profound answers.
Jonas, Minh, Leon, Shanti + (Anya), Auckland, New Zealand, 2016.
The number 150 is generally accepted as the maximum friend count you can reasonably maintain before your capacity to keep track of them is strained. Known as “Dunbar’s Number,” it’s held fast since it was pinpointed in the 1990s—ostensibly because your social network may have grown, but your brain likely hasn’t. So what would you say if one of your thousands of virtual friends asked if she could photograph you in your house? And maybe even stay with you? That’s precisely what photographer Tanja Hollander did in 2011 when she set out to photograph her 626 Facebook friends.
Over six years, the project became a documentary on the meaning of friendship, communication, and travel in the 21st century. Finally landing at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, “Are You Really My Friend?” records her journey through 451 portraits taken in 12 countries, 34 states, 180 cities and towns, through a hurricane in Texas and terror attacks in Paris— covering 203,206 miles in all. At least a half dozen trips crisscrossed through Las Vegas, where she’s completed commissioned portraits (more are on the way).
Hollander’s real-life friend, Las Vegas filmmaker Robin Greenspun, made the documentary that accompanies her show and comes to the Las Vegas Film Festival in June. “How is this new word, ‘friend,’ that Facebook has reinvented and corporatized, affecting all of us?” Hollander asks. As she crashes on couches, leans on friends in dangerous times, and crosses oceans to see friends in real life, you might just begin to think harder about that question, too. Commission your own portrait by searching Kickstarter.com for Hollander; visit areyoureallymyfriend.com; and see the film at the Las Vegas Film Festival, June 6–11.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TANJA HOLLANDER