While most of us are finding creative ways to hide annoying political statements and baby pictures from our Facebook feed, one St. Louis photographer is going out of his way to reconnect with his Facebook friend — in person. This past fall, Corey Woodruff traveled more than 10,000 miles, cross country, in 28 days to photograph 360 of the people he’s befriended on Facebook over the years. As of Thursday night, he’s brought that number up to 370.
While Woodruff started the project as a reason to practice his photography skills, he said he’s found it to be an interesting look at the relationship we have between social media and real life interaction.
“I quickly discovered how many people outside my ring of friends would see the photos I would post,” said Woodruff. “It was evident that the social element of it was something worth highlighting. I’ve since given it a lot of thought, of course, and it is interesting how social media has made the world such a small place. We can instantly message each other all over the world but it has also separated a lot of us. … I’ve gotten to take some cool photos, but I also get to spend personal time with literally everyone I know.”
By the end of the year, Woodruff hopes to have photographed all 700+ friends on his Facebook profile. On Friday’s “St. Louis on the Air,” Woodruff joined host Don Marsh to discuss the project and his hopes for the future of it.
Before the show, we asked Woodruff to share his three favorite photos from the journey so far. While he said that choosing favorites are an impossible task, there are three he thinks “make for a good story.” Here they are:
“I just love the element of improvisation in the photo,” Woodruff wrote. “Kristin is a great subject to photograph, so we just played around with some colored lighting and a fan until we found something that does justice to her fashion sense and rock star persona.”
“I'm particularly proud of this shot because it was exactly what I had in mind when I asked him to bring a pig's head to the shoot (his response was simply, "No problem."). We got it in one click. I also think it suits Rick's culinary personality perfectly: in your face, but respectful of the ingredients.”
“This was shot in an empty brewery in my hometown of Quincy, Ill. I spent two days there last summer improvising portraits in the cavernous space and it really got me excited about shooting all over the country in October. I love shooting in the studio but having a new location each day during my trip was both inspiring and challenging.”
You can check out his project online here. You can also follow Woodruff on a variety of social media channels:
Woodruff takes at least two photos of each of his friends. One, where they are under the same light with the same background, to focus on the individual’s personality when there’s no difference otherwise. The second, as a thank you to those who have joined the project, he makes another portrait in a unique way. He lets people bring in what they want.
While Woodruff captured the majority of his friends who live outside of St. Louis on his 10,000 mile journey this fall to 35 states, he says he still needs to capture more friends in St. Louis, and some friends who live abroad. He’s self-financing the trip but looking at artist’s grants and, perhaps, a Kickstarter to help complete the process. He’s considering culminating the project by publishing a book of the photos.
One of the most interesting aspects of the trip for the photographer has been reconnecting — not with his best friends on Facebook but with those who he couldn’t exactly remember how they met.
“There’s been a few people I’ve friended after a business meeting but when they came to the studio we had to have a quick five-minute discussion of ‘hey, how do I know you again?’ because we don’t interact much on Facebook,” said Woodruff. “Those, while they may be awkward moments, every time I’ve done that, I’ve come out, and I hope we have come out of the experience appreciating and knowing each other better.”
Woodruff said that he wouldn’t have become a photographer if he hadn’t been part of social media. In 2008, he was touring with his band and was taking photos of the band for their Myspace page. That evolved into a full-time career.
“The social aspect of getting in front of someone and having an interaction with someone while taking their photo is one of the biggest draws to me of photography,” said Woodruff.
Woodruff hopes his experience personalizing social mediums, will show others their true purpose.
“We may take Facebook for granted right now, it may disappear in five or 10 years,” Woodruff said. “If you use those as tools instead of substitutions for real-world relationships, then even after the medium is gone, you’ll still have the relationship with the person on the other end of the computer."
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.