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Matinee: 'Photo a Friend With Tanja Hollander' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

3 October 2015

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 105th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Photo a Friend With Tanja Hollander.

This eight-minute clip is from The Art Assignment, a weekly PBS series hosted by curator Sarah Urist Green and author John Green that travels the U.S. soliciting assignments from artists that anyone can do. And anyone, you know, means you.

For their 15th assignment, the Greens went to North Adams, Mass. to catch up with photographer Tonja Hollander who has given herself an epic assignment. She's traveling the world to take formal portraits of all her 626 Facebook friends, a project she calls Are You Really My Friend?

No, we would not do that to you. Really. Relax. Sit back, enjoy the show. And, really, don't go anywhere.

The project will be exhibited on completion in March 2017 at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art so that's where the Greens interview Hollander on the subject of friendship in the age of friending.

A letter she was handwriting while instant messaging a friend gave her the idea of exploring these two ways of communicating.

She begins with a reflection on the difference between taking landscapes and shooting portraits. Her landscapes are serene, she says, while her portraits are chaotic. Landscapes simplify, portraits surround the subject with clues to who they really are.

A letter she was handwriting while instant messaging a friend gave her the idea of exploring these two ways of communicating. She liked them both for very different reasons. The handwritten message was personal but the electronic message erased distance. What difference does it make to friendship, she wondered?

And how do you hang that in a museum?

She thought of using a wall where people could write their definition of a real friend on a Post-it note and stick it up. She started collecting a lot of them.

She does invite you to participate (but the show aired a year ago, so you won't be among the first). Here are the rules:

  1. Find a friend (define "friend" however you want)
  2. Take a formal photographic portrait of them
  3. Upload to your social media platform of choice using #theartassignment
  4. Fame and glory (your work might be featured in a future episode)
  5. Extra credit: Also upload a shot of a Post-it describing what a real friend is and then send it to Hollander at PO Box 805, Lewiston, ME 04243-805

The Greens help by talking about the history of portraiture in photography. Robert Frank appears in the animated segment, in fact, which also includes German photographer August Sander before the animation comes back to Hollander herself.

With that under your belt, you actually get to go with Hollander as she takes one of her portraits. She loads film in her Hasselblad, calculates the exposure with a light meter and talks about the props, let's call them, that surround her subject.

That's the catch to this assignment. It's a formal photograph. Not a candid. Not a selfie with your bestie. Something considered and composed. Something deliberate. Your friend at home surrounded by their stuff (as George Carlin used to put it) and still (as Hollander says).

That sounds like fun to us. In fact, we're going to find out when our imaginary friend is free for a sitting. It should be interesting to see what we come up with.

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