Geotagging a tweet is the digital equivalent of carving a message on a tree: a semi-permanent but hidden mark on a place that in its own way declares “I was here.” The technology has allowed a crust of information to form on top of physical spaces that’s less invasive than graffiti, perhaps, but real nonetheless. How do geotagged messages and other multimedia alter the identity of a place itself? Two photographers set out to explore that question in a series of photos they’re describing as “tributes to the data stream.”
The 250 photographs that make up Geolocation, by artists Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman, are paired with the text of original tweets geotagged at the location of the photograph. “We imagine ourselves as virtual flâneurs, ethnographers of the Internet, exploring cities 140 characters at a time through the lives of others,” the artists write on the project’s website. “Our act of making a photograph anchors and memorializes online data while examining the expectations of privacy surrounding social networks,” they add.
The inspiration for the project came from a desire to preserve some small portion of our digital culture and reconnect bits of informations with their origins, but also, to comment on the way social media has changed social relations. As Larson told Hotshoe Magazine:
The first one we shot was three years ago in downtown Chicago just as the financial crisis was getting really bad in the United States. At that moment, this particular Tweet was by someone who had apparently lost his job at an investment bank. When we stood at the base of that investment bank, it really connected with us and made it clear what it is to be a part of that tragedy or event. We were also thinking a lot about how people were relating to each other in this way. Rather than going to a bar and crying it out with close friends, he is posting it on Twitter where anybody could access this information. This points to a big shift about how people relate to each other in this day and age.
Other times the relationships between the images and text are less obvious or even eerie. A picture of a parking lot is the site of a tweet asking “What’s Jesus want to whisper in your ear tonight?” An image of an overgrown thicket, perhaps someone’s backyard, bears the warning, “Don’t lose somebody you love for somebody you like.” The exact locations aren’t revealed, nor are the Twitter handles, stripping the words of any sort of context other than what’s presented in the photograph.
To compile the work, the artists traveled to England, Canada, California, New York City, Atlanta, and elsewhere along the U.S. East Coast. They hope to bring the project on the road in different cities, where they’ll add 10 additional photos to go with local, geotagged tweets.