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We meet up with photographer Tanja Hollander in North Adams, MA, on her epic journey around the world to visit and take formal portraits of ALL of her 626 facebook friends. She challenges you to take a formal photographic portrait of a friend, and to tell us what a real friend is.

INSTRUCTIONS - Photo a Friend
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 & glory (your work might be featured in a future episode)
5. Extra credit: Also upload a pic of a post-it saying what a real friend is and then send it to Tanja: PO Box 805, Lewiston, ME 04243-805

Find out more about The Art Assignment and how to submit your response:

Sarah: Today we're meeting with artist Tanja Hollander, an artist who began her career as a landscape photographer but who, since 2011, has been a mission to photograph all 626 of her Facebook friends in their homes and take their formal portrait.

She has titled the project "Are You Really My Friend?" and has been traveling all over the world visiting friends, acquaintances, and people she barely knows. Right now we're in North Adams, Massachusetts, at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, where she'll be displaying the completed project in 2017.

We're going to be talking with Tanja about ideas of friendship and what that means in this, the age of social networking. So, let's go meet Tanja and see what kind of challenge she has for us.

Tanja: Hi. I'm Tanja Hollander, and this is your art assignment.

For me, when I'm in that state of mind of photographing the landscape, it's a really quiet place and a really serene and alone place, where as the portraits are almost the exact opposite. Um, they are about, uh, the spaces that people live in and all of the things that they collect and surround themselves with, um, and they're about sort of creating that community in an internal way instead of an external way.

I was home alone on New Year's Eve of 2010 and was instant messaging a friend who was working on a film in Jakarta on Facebook, and at the same time, I was handwriting a letter to a friend who was deployed in Afghanistan, and I started thinking about those two friendships and how they were from really different parts of my life but both people were important to me, and also the two ways of communicating, um, and how the handwritten letter felt much more personal, but it was really amazing that I was able to connect with this friend so far away online.

So I just started thinking about friendship and relationships in twenty-first century and how things are changing because of the Internet but how things are also staying the same and if that is something that's photographable.

One of the things that I'm thinking about and that I thought about in my exhibition at the museum was how to bridge the analogue vs. digital gap in-- in transferring this project that had only existed online into something that could exist in a museum setting, and I was so excited about the collaborative aspects of social media be- of people being able to comment on photographs and have this conversation about what real friendship meant, um, on my Facebook page, on my- on the project's Facebook page with strangers from all over the world, but I wanted to bring that element somehow into the museum setting, and so I designated a wall with Post-it notes that people could write in- um, what they thought a real friend was on a Post-it note and then literally post it on the museum wall.

Since that time, I collected all of these Post-it notes, um, in the museum of what people thought a real friend was and then I've also collected them whenever I do lectures and have other exhibitions, so now I've got these Post-it notes from all over the world, um, in different languages, uh, different color Post-it notes, um, about what people think a real friend is, and that, to me, has become a really important part of the project.

Your art assignment is to make a formal portrait of a friend, um, and you can define "friend" however you want, and, uh, place however you want, and as an added bonus, I would love for you to send me a Post-it note written in pencil of what you think a real friend is.

John: You know what Tanja's project reminds me of is all those eccentric, uh, travel books where people go on these quests.

Sarah: Right.

John: Like, my favorite one is Playing the Moldovans at Tennis. Have you read that book?

Sarah: Uh, no, no.

John: This guy, this guy, Tony Hawks, he goes, uh-

Sarah: The skateboarder?

John: Not the skateboarder. No, that's Tony Hawk. This is Tony Hawks.

Sarah: Right. Got it, got it.

John: Two hawks.

Sarah: Yeah.

John: Anyway, he plays the entire Moldovan national soccer team at tennis.

Sarah: Okay.

John: It's great, really good book.

Sarah: Alright, so if we could transition this to a discussion about photographic portraiture, that might be good.

John: [Laughs] Fair enough.

Sarah: Um, so, if we want to think about this topic, I mean, it really goes back to the beginning of photography itself.

John: Right, and people took portraits as soon as there were photographs, right?

Sarah: Right.

John: But, like, back then, you had to sit really still. You had to do, like, your Blue Steel for a long time, like-

Sarah: Right, well, cameras tended to be bigger and harder to lug around, and there were longer exposure times necessary. You can stop.

John: I'm still doing- I'm still doing my Blue Steel.

Sarah: No, no. Please, please stop.

Anyway, so, in the twentieth century, more and more photographers started to get out of the studio and into the world with lighter cameras, shorter exposure times, and to do more intense, ambitious photo series.

John: Oh, like August Sander, People of the 20th Century?

Sarah: Yeah, like August-

John: That is one of my favorites.

Sarah: Yeah, August Sander for sure, and Robert Frank, and Lisette Model, and lots of interesting photographers.

Sarah:Another epic photographic road trip was Robert Frank's The Americans. He began traveling around the US in 1955, documenting a wide swath of American life.

We see cars, open stretches of road, diners, media consumption, and flags: signs of the flourishing of post-war American consumer culture.

But Frank's style differs considerably from Tanja's, whose systematic approach and careful framing might call to mind German photographer August Sander's series People of the 20th Century. Beginning in the early 19-teens, Sander attempted a comprehensive record of his country's people, taking hundreds of portraits of German citizens and categorizing them by occupation, making what he called a physiognomic image of an age.

Sander wasn't the only one who believed the spirit of the time could be read in peoples' faces, an idea that would prove to be problematic in the turbulent and traumatic years to come. But his riveting photographs, like Tanja's, put you in direct eye contact with his subjects, offering the feeling of familiarity despite the distance of location or time. Tanja's project is also a reflection of its time: taking you into the intimate domestic spaces of her digital friends and giving you access to information not often apparent when viewing, say, a Facebook profile.

Tanja: I always do a self-portrait when I hit the road. We are going to photograph Denise Markonish who uh, is not one of my Facebook friends, um, but she's curating my show at MASS MoCA and I think it's important that she's part of this project.

Denise: Hi!

Tanja: Hi! For me what a formal portrait is, is, um, really paying attention to the space around the person, and I think that's sort of the difference between the snapshot. I'm very calculated of what I include in the frame, um, and I try and get the light just right as well as all of the cool things that people have in their house, or lack of things, which I also find really interesting. Who has tons of stuff and who doesn't have that much stuff and how that defines the person's personality and environment. I think you can almost tell more about a person by the things around them. And then, also, the aspects of formal portraiture as they're sitting still and they're paying attention to the camera and not other distractions.

I decided when I was gonna start shooting that a real friend is somebody that you share a meal with, that you invite into your house, that you argue about art or politics, drink a little too much red wine and then you're still friends in the morning and it's all fine.