U.S. -- Maine-based photographer Tanja Hollander has amassed nearly 700 Facebook friends, but many of them she has never met in person. So she decided to go on an epic quest in hopes of turning online relationships into something real.
Hollander got the idea for what eventually turned into her photo project titled 'Are You Really My Friend?' on New Year's Eve of 2010 while she was sitting at home and hand-writing a letter to a friend serving in Afghanistan while talking on Facebook to another pal in Jakarta.
This dichotomy in the means of communication got Hollander thinking about the relationships in her life both on and off line, and she came to the realization that some people whom she considered her friends she had never met in person.
At the end of February 2011, Hollander set out to find an answer to the question she had posed to herself: 'Am I really friends with all these people?' Armed with a camera, the photographer hit the road, planning to visit every one of her Facebook friends, which at the time numbered 626, come into their homes and make their formal portraits.
Over the course of two years, Hollander has photographer nearly 300 of her now-678 Facebook friends in their homes across the U.S. and beyond.
'What started as a personal documentary on friendship and environmental portraiture has turned into an exploration of American culture and community building both on- and off-line,' she says. 'I have found with a little bit of effort, a tenuous online relationship can turn into a close friendship.'
Relying on the kindness of strangers, Hollander crowdfunded her trips to dozens of states and a number of foreign countries, traveling by plane, train, boat, truck, trolley, subway, commuter rail, bus, car and on foot. Hollander wrote on her site that through her ambitious photo project, she has learned a lot about herself, explaining that she had gone on her journey as a cynic but came back as a much more open-minded person willing to say 'yes' to anything.
The project took Hollander to some unexpected places, from a bee sanctuary in Saint Louis to the West Wing in the White House, and gave her a chance to have experiences she otherwise would have never had, like admiring chickens and prize roosters, dancing on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum and sharing a bowl of gumbo in New Orleans.
‘Most importantly, I have learned about human kindness and compassion,’ she wrote. 'I continue to be surprised by the number of people, especially (the real life) strangers, who have opened their homes to me—offering me a place to stay, sharing their lives, their stories, their food, and their families while allowing my camera to document it all.'