Geolocation: Nate Larson and Marni Shindelman


Editorial Review

Photo show puts tweets in their place
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, Nov. 18, 2011

The work of Nate Larson was a standout in the Baltimore Museum of Art's 2010 exhibition of Sondheim Prize finalists. The Baltimore-based photographer didn't win that year, but his series of landscape-based photographs - strangely poignant despite their rigorously conceptual underpinnings - caught my eye.

Several examples from Larson's series, supplemented by pictures taken by collaborator Marni Shindelman, are on view at the Montpelier Arts Center. The show is worth a trip to Laurel.

Travel, in fact, was integral to the artists' process. Larson and Shindelman created the works in the show, "Geolocation," by trolling the Twitterverse for tweets that strangers posted - whether funny, sad, snarky or confessional - and then taking pictures of the places from which the tweets were sent. (In case you've been living under a rock: There's a setting on most smartphones that enables Twitter users to let their followers know exactly where their messages originated.) The resulting images are paired with the original tweets that inspired them, creating ready-made captions that range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Oddly, the concept works best when there is little or no obvious connection between text and place. One image, taken on a swimming pool deck near a cluster of empty lounge chairs and a table, features the caption "Women lie. Men lie. Women lie. Men lie. Abraham Lincoln doesn't lie. #historicremix." The slightly surreal disconnect between the sunny scene and the tweet's cynical content gives the otherwise bland picture a tension it wouldn't have by itself.

This isn't the only photo to exploit sex differences. Another picture, of a chain-link fence and a house shrouded in darkness, reads, "Why doesn't he understand I dnt want to be kissed let alone seen while I'm sick. Ugh."

One image offers an implicit critique of the geolocation feature itself. A mundane shot of a house is accompanied by the words "i just put on that location thing for Twitter. i'm not sure how i feel about it though."

You may have similar misgivings. One or two captions are uncomfortably intimate, such as "Amy is Dying @HighlandHospital," which accompanies a picture of yet another anonymous house. Why would someone tweet that? Larson and Shindelman's work raises questions about privacy and overexposure in the modern world.

They're questions worth asking. So is this one: Is there any way to reconcile the fundamentally human yearning for connection with our frustrating inability to ever fully achieve it? That's the paradox at the heart of "Geolocation," which hunts down something fleeting - a feeling - and attempts to memorialize it forever, by pinning it to a map.