“We see ourselves as archivists," say US Twitter photographers Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman. Following the hashtag #HowToKeepARelationshipWithMe, the pair uses publicly available GPS metadata to track and photograph locations of related tweets. Their photos memorialize virtual moments, compare environments of people with little more in common than a shared interest, and, according to the artists, visualize “whispers on social media and the digital noise surrounding us”.
Why #HowtoKeepaRelationshipWithMe? “We selected it because of the mixture of bravado and vulnerability," say Larson and Shindelman, who photographed the realtime locations of all tweets containing that hashtag within a fifteen-mile radius of New York City, during one week in July last year. The set of 20 photographs is remarkable for its lack of human figures, which the photographers consciously avoid: “In some ways, it is similar to a historic plaque for a battle on the side of the highway - a marker speaking to the history of place and the power of location”.
“There was a location that looked to be down a walking path in a park," recount the photographers, "When we arrived, it was actually a runway system for miniature airplanes. There were two older gentlemen flying them, taxiing them down the runway, flying in patterns, and then landing them safely again on the ground. It was an amazingly beautiful moment that we never would have discovered otherwise.”
But the primary effect of the photographers' project and their ability to pursue it using publicly available information might be to raise doubts about privacy in social networks: “The first tweet that we shot for the project was a wry commentary on losing a job. It is astonishing to think about people putting that information out there in a public way, rather than limiting it to a few close friends. We also put more personal information out there than ever before and we have serious privacy concerns - who is using that data and for what purpose?”
Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman’s collaborative work focuses on the cultural understanding of distance as perceived in modern life and network culture. Their work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Portland Art Museum. They were recently artists-in-residence at Light Work and completed a site-specific series of billboards for the 2012 Atlanta Celebrates Photography Public Art Commission.