Thursday May 23, 2013 | 09:46 AM
Posted by Rob Gould

Tanja Hollander was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1972 and she moved to Maine after receiving a B.A. in photography, film, and feminist studies in 1994 from Hampshire College. Her current project “Are you really my friend” was recently exhibited at the Portland Museum of Art and continues to receive international media attention. She did a TEDxDirigo talk in 2012 and has lectured through out the country about this project.    Her work has been exhibited nationally at galleries in New York City and Boston and has twice been selected for the Portland Museum of Art Biennial, winning a purchase prize in 2007. In 1994 Hollander opened and directed Dead Space Gallery, Portland’s first art venue for local art, music, spoken word, and performance. She founded and was the volunteer director of the Bakery Photographic Collective from 2001-2012.  Hollander is represented by Carroll and Sons in Boston, Massachusetts and Jim Kempner in New York City. She is currently a resident of Auburn, Maine.

For the first time I will be giving you an interview in two parts. Due to her work on "Are you Really My Friend: The Facebook Portrait Project,", Tanja just has too much good stuff to say to squeeze into one post. So, stay tuned for Part Two ...

Road tripping, Facebook naiveté, and a lack of societal badness

As with most of my interviews, what you'll read here is a greatly condensed version of our conversation.

What was your first experience with social media?

"There was probably some AOL Instant Messenger in my former life, or maybe Yahoo! with my friend Sarah Devlin when she moved from Portland to Brooklin, Maine. We were probably the only two people in our peer group who even chatted online. I think I may have had one other friend who I messaged with. This was around 1996-1999. This was just a form of communication for me. There wasn't a social media presence. I remember sending emails at this time and how long it took. I'd go to the bathroom and come back and it would still be sending."

"I was on MySpace but didn't really use it at all. I think I probably still have a MySpace. Facebook, I remember specifically because my sister Emma was on and we were in New Orleans at Jazz Fest and she was taking photos and couldn't tag me in them because I didn't have an account. I remember setting up my Facebook account in the hotel room and being like, 'Forget it!' I got all of these friend requests. They were mostly her friends because my friends weren't on it yet. But, there were a couple of photographers who saw me on there and they were sending me messages, but they would come in as an email alerts, so I was trying to respond to the emails. I can remember thinking, 'This is too much. I can't deal with this.' So that is when I first got on Facebook. It was overwhelming for the first few months and I can remember calling Emma and being like, 'I don't know what's going on?'"

"It wasn't even until I was a couple of months into the project that I realized the importance of Facebook to me as an artist. I was really naive as far as social media goes. When I started the project I was only on Facebook. It was really a learning process. It continues to be a learning process. But there was an 'aha' moment and it was when I created a page for the project and started uploading images and tagging people. The response was huge."

"It took me a while to realize that each different network has its own voice. I think I went on Twitter first and I don't think I posted anything for the first six months I was on. I just listened. Then I tried tweeting and I just knew I was doing it wrong. Plus, there were a couple of different things going on. My people are on Facebook. They're slowly starting to come on Instagram and Twitter. I actually really like Twitter and wish more of my people were on it. And, Tumblr? No. I don't know anyone there. I like Tumblr as a visual platform and it's been perfect for the road tripping."

What do you like about social media?

"I think it's a great tool. I mean, having a global audience is something that's amazing. The first thing I tell students is that before you even graduate you should be building an online audience."

"I should clarify that my project isn't about social media, or more specifically Facebook. It's about friendship. And, photography. Although, now I'm studying Facebook. I feel like a sociologist sometimes. This was not my original goal."

"Facebook has helped me to maintain relationships all over the world. Especially with my age group who are having kids and stuff. I can watch them grown up and be a part of their lives. That's awesome."

"I would also count Skype and Facetime as social media and I think they're invaluable tools."

"Everybody I talk with about social media has an opinion about it. And, it varies across the board. The thing that many people say is, 'Oh, it's such a waste of time.' As if people didn't waste time before Facebook came along. That's my favorite social media hater comment."

On privacy ...

"It's funny, I don't think you can talk about privacy issues and social media without also acknowledging that there is a camera on Congress St. watching us right now. It's possible that someone could be listening to this conversation. I mean, look at the whole AP thing. Or, you have a cell phone or a debit card and you can kiss your privacy goodbye."

"You can say you're not on Facebook but you actually are. You're in your friends photos. You're in your friends posts and comments."

"The privacy stuff doesn't really get to me. But, I do always say to students, 'Don't say it on the Internet if you don't want it there forever. Forever.'"

What do you dislike about social media?

"The negatives? I don't know, that's a hard question to answer. I haven't seen some societal badness. I actually just watched a documentary, or read an article or something, that talked about the telegraph and how people thought that was the end of the world. Social media is not the end of civilization."

TO BE CONTINUED ... Stay tuned for part two.


Is there a person or brand that you think uses social media effectively?

@typetruck - Kyle is a visual artist and letter press printer - her eye and wit brighten my social media days

@mkramer - Melody was the producer and social media guru for Fresh Air.  She is one of the funniest  and most thoughtful people to follow on all SNS.  I enjoy Tumblr because of her.

@jbchang - Joanne is chef owner of a few very successful restaurants in Boston.  Her tweets and pictures are a great behind the scenes of the restaurant world, they are funny and down to earth.  And the last time I was in Boston I went to Myers + Chang because I adore her on social so much.  Well that and the food is spectacular.

I want to thank Tanja for taking the time to talk with me about her opinions on, and experience with, social media.

You can find Tanja on Twitter at: @tanjahollander

You can find Tanja on Instagram at: @tanjahollander

You can find The Facebook Portrait Project on Facebook at: Are you really my friend? The FB portrait project

You can find The Facebook Portrait Project on Tumblr at: Are You Really My Friend


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Social media has changed the way that many of us learn, purchase, interact and explore the world around us. And, things are just getting started. Social, Social is a place to discuss social media with people from all walks of life. No experts allowed.

About the Author

Rob works as a digital marketing & public relations consultant to agencies, brands, and individuals. He has 20 years of marketing experience. He also currently serves in a volunteer capacity as director of pr/communications for TEDxDirigo. From 2005-2011, Rob served as director of social media & agency communications at The VIA Agency (Portland). Prior to VIA, Rob worked with several PR & advertising agencies in London & Boston. He is a graduate of The University of Vermont (UVM) and a Maine transplant (2002).

Follow Rob on Twitter at @bobbbyg

His real-life interests include art, travel, writing, design, psychology, the beach, & exercise (grudgingly at times).

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