Ever get that odd sensation that someone’s watching you? Well, if you’re online, someone always kind of is.
There’s that old caveat: Never say anything you wouldn’t want published in The New York Times. And though we all understand the concept, we go on Tweeting, Instagramming, blogging, pushing our personal data into the universe without really knowing how it might one day be used.
That idea is curious to conceptual artists Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman. So here’s what they do: They troll Twitter for trending topics in specific locations. They then find the physical location where a Tweet was published, and photograph that location after the fact.
Yes your Tweets contain geolocation information. And for Larson and Shindelman, the artistic decision to leave people out of the photograph is intentional. The idea, Larson explains, is to meditate on the thought behind the words — by seeing what the person might have seen when they hit “Tweet.”
“Twitter has over 350 million posts a day and we see ourselves as archivists, pulling down and preserving a small fragment of them that would otherwise be lost to the vastness of the internet,” he continues. “Our photographs anchor the post to a place — this happened here, someone felt this here, this was experienced here.”
Recently, Larson and Shindelman have been exploring hashtags. The reason why certain hashtags start to trend is a separate conversation — but one that was trending in New York City this past July, Shindelman says, was #HowToKeepARelationshipWithMe. Larson and Shindelman monitored the chatter, and picked a few interesting ones to “photograph.”
Similar projects have been done in the past: Joel Sternfeld’s ostensibly ordinary landscapes, in his series On This Site, actually mark the sites of violent crimes and accidents. (A more recent take is Stephen Chalmers’ Unmarked series.) But Larson and Shindelman add another layer. Their idea is to reintroduce digital abstractions to the physical space where they were made.
“There is a digital noise surrounding us, invisible chatter, and we spend time listening to this in each city we travel through,” writes Larson. “These photographs serve as a means of memorializing these brief virtual moments.”