Since 2009, Marni Shindelman and Nate Larson have embarked on an unusual project. They scan publicly available Twitter feeds for geotagged tweets and then travel to those locations to photograph them.
The two try to imagine what the Twitter user was thinking or seeing when they composed their sometimes humorous and often poignant tweets.
For Shindelman and Larson, the project is about looking for some of the real people behind the 500 million tweets sent each day. “Our act of making a photograph anchors and memorializes the ephemeral online data in the real world and also probes the expectations of privacy surrounding social networks,” they write on their website.
Larson and Shindelman shared some of their photos with us here; you can see the rest on their site.
The 'Geolocation' project began in 2009 when the duo discovered Yahoo Pipes, a web tool that someone had used to map tweets that had been geotagged. At the time, there were only a few tweets, but this one in front of an investment bank in Chicago caught their eye. 'We took this right after the Recession hit and there was something impactful about someone walking out after getting fired and sending this sad, funny tweet,' says Larson.
At the time, Shindelman was living in Rochester, New York, and Larson was living in Chicago. Each did their own version of the project focusing on their location.
Over time, the two found better applications for the project. Shindelman now uses Bing Twitter Map, while Larson uses Tweetspot and Streamd.in.
Most tweets are not geotagged so they are limited to a small number of tweets out of the 500 million per day that are sent. Their selection of which tweets to use for the project is highly subjective.
'We like to pick tweets that humanize the technology or give us an insight into (the user's) feelings about the world. We like tweets that show the current time, whether its people talking about pop culture or politics. We love ones that reference the technology or Twitter or how people relate to each other. We like ones where people share intimate details about their lives,' says Larson.
Eventually, Shindelman and Larson began targeting their project by selecting a town or location first and only sifting through the tweets that came from the location. Often a museum or art society will fund them to come and make a project in their area. Larson calls it their 'preferred way of working.' This was taken in College Park, Maryland.
When Larson moved to Baltimore to teach at the Maryland Institute College of Art, he continued the project in Maryland. One of his site specific projects near Baltimore was at Maryland's Eastern Shore.
Larson and Shindelman also like to highlight tweets that are funny, intentionally or not. This user was clearly trying to reference the 1998 Jim Carrey movie 'The Truman Show.'
In 2012, the two adjusted their practice even further by photographing every geotagged tweet with the hashtag #HowToKeepARelationshipWithMe near New York City. There were 23 in total. This was taken in Yonkers, New York.
When Shindelman and Larson arrive at a site, they will often hang out for a few hours taking photographs and trying to imagine what the user was thinking or seeing. Usually, they shoot anywhere for 20 to 60 photos before they choose just one that they feel best represents the tweet.
For one of their favourite site-specific installations, Larson and Shindelman chose the DUMBO neighbourhood of Brooklyn. The tweets and images were then displayed in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Larson says that he saw it as a way to connect residents with their neighbours.
One of their most difficult site specific projects was to shoot in the Indianapolis International Airport. This was taken just outside the airport.
Because the GPS coordinates can only guarantee that they are within 15 feet of the tweet, Shindelman and Larson have to do some guess work about where the person was.
'(This tweet) is about what it means to connect in the digital age. It's not enough to have Twitter. People are looking for an additional layer of communication on top of that,' says Larson.
The airport project was supported by The Indianapolis Airport Authority, who gave them access to the building.
After shooting numerous tweet locations, they made a video installation that was on display as travellers went down an escalator to baggage claim. 'There was something fantastic about being in the smallest space we could imagine,' says Larson.
Larson and Shindelman see no end in sight for the project. It's perhaps even more relevant today than it was when they started.
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