Sitting home alone on New Years Eve in 2010, Tanja Hollander was using Facebook to chat with her Jakarta, India-based friend Sandeep as she also hand wrote a letter to her other friend Jed, who was deployed in Afghanistan.
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"I was thinking about how cool it is that I was at home in Maine, yet connecting with my faraway friends," Hollander told Mashable. "I started scrolling through my Facebook friends and realized that they were all over the world. As a photographer, I wondered if this this was photographical.'"
By February, her idea had actualized: She would photograph her 626 Facebook friends in their homes around the world. With just $50 in her bank account, Hollander quit the first of three part-time jobs and applied for a grant to begin what would become the largest undertaking in her career is a photographer, The Facebook Portrait Project.
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A year and a half later, after quitting three part-time jobs, she's captured images of 252 friends in 15 U.S. states. You can see images of the "A" through "C" names in the below gallery and her complete work on Google+. She's covered most of the Eastern Seaboard, Texas and New Orleans. Her furthest trips from her home in Auburn, Maine took her to Los Angeles, Calif. and Las Vegas, Nev.
"The thing that's really exciting to me is the way social media can enhance our real life relationships," Hollander says. "I'm making much more of an effort to learn more about people. All these people have really interesting stories and do really interesting things."
Hollander had never met many of her Facebook friends before, so she was curious to see how their first real life encounters would go.
"I thought people I hadn't met before in real life would be the hardest and they ended up being some great new friends -- that was so shocking," she says.
Much to her delight, her "non-friends" -- professional acquaintances and friends-of-friends -- have ended up being some of her favorite subjects to photograph. She recalls sharing gumbo in New Orleans with a friend of her parents' son, having keys to a professional contact's apartment given to her during a stay in Houston and connecting with another female photographer whose work she had long admired in Los Angeles.
Home-cooked meals, red wine, and heated arguments about politics and art -- all ingredients Hollander considers integral to friendship and community -- have pervaded throughout her visits with Facebook connections.
"People are really proud of their communities," Hollander observes, noting that she regularly receives tours of her Facebook friends' neighborhoods. Hollander had anticipated individual homes, rather than larger communities, would be the underlying theme of her photographs.
Alan Rapp, Brooklyn, N.Y.
The Facebook Portrait Project in the Social Space
Since beginning the project, many people have assumed Hollander to be a social media thought leader. However, she admits that -- at least at the start of the project -- she was far from one.
"It didn't occur to me to start a Facebook page or a blog at the beginning, because I came to this from an art point of view," says Hollander, who now documents her journey on both platforms, as well as Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. She admits she knew nothing about tagging or Search Engine Optimization, but is learning as she goes along.
"I know at some point the blog will be as important as the finished product," Hollander says. "I'm creating this diary of how we are living."
Hollander was invited in October 2011 to exhibit her work in progress by the Portland Museum of Art, and she took four months off from shooting for the exhibit. More than 150 people have contributed to the project so far, and Hollander is actively fundraising this summer to finance her trip abroad to reach her foreign Facebook friends in 11 countries on four continents.
Take a look through Hollander's portraits and let us know in the comments what you think of the project. Can Facebook friendships be captured in a collection of photographs?
This story originally published on Mashable here.