Are you really my friend? is a multi-media exhibition, documentary and book.
On New Year’s Eve 2010, I was in my kitchen in Auburn, Maine, simultaneously writing to two
friends: to one deployed in Afghanistan I wrote with pencil on paper; to the other working in
Jakarta I sent a Facebook message. In this moment, between the tangible and digital, I decided to
photograph all 626 of my Facebook friends in real life. The journey began in Washington, DC, in
March 2011 and ended in Tel Aviv, Israel on June 4, 2016. During this time, I immersed myself
in the lives and communities of both close friends and virtual strangers, all the while sating my
curiosity about the differences between the analogue and digital lives we lead.
After six years of working on Are you really my friend? I had over 100,000 images.
Plus, an enormous archive of e-mail correspondence, text messages, Facebook posts and
messages, Tweets, Instagrams, monthly mailing-list updates, blog posts, and notes on my phone,
computer, and journals. I’d amassed tens of thousands of Post-It notes on friendship from
third graders in the South Bronx to PhD candidates at MIT, and from many people all over the
world in between.
The exhibition debuted at MASS MoCA in February of 2017. It featured 430 portraits,
photographs of landscapes I visited, snapshots and videos of what I experienced along the way,
images of travel ephemera, a short documentary, and an interactive ephemera and Post-it note
project. It was important that viewers understand my entire experience – a condition of the social
media age – so, unlike historic photography projects, there is minimal editing. This is also a
defiant stand against the art world, showing that a careful selection of portraits is perhaps no
more important than an iPhone snapshot or scanned boarding pass. To emphasize this, I printed
all the portraits as wallpaper and then mounted a handful of large traditional photographs.
Additionally, there are six banners that contain a total of 5,148 images of ephemera, digital
snapshots, selfies, and Post-it notes; and a memorial wall to those who have passed away since
the project began.
The documentary, directed and produced by Robin Greenspun, traces my career up to the making
of Are you really my friend? All footage in the film, aside from interviews with me, come from
my own hard drives. I handed years worth of documentation over to Greenspun, who culled
through over the massive quantity of images and videos to compile the finished documentary.
In the book, I articulate the challenges and pleasures of integrating social media into my creative
practice—including how to navigate the complexities of maintaining a private life while engaged
in such a public project. My own writings and documentation of the six-year project are
dispersed throughout. It is both a partial archive and a meditation on the nature of travel and
friendship in the twenty-first century, a combination of diary, travelogue and monograph.