Once Upon A Time in Tweeter Street
(Image by Michael Hughes)
“I’ll show you,” said Michael Hughes in his undulating Scottish accent (which he claims has been toned down after living in London for two years) and digs out a well-protected iPhone from his jeans pocket and starts to frantically click on the screen with his thumb. In a matter of a second he put the phone down on the table and spins it to my direction.
On the screen is a radar-looking circle highlighting a map over North West London, making me wonder if we were measuring the epicentre of an earthquake or discovering how the idea of Tweeter Street came alive. Created by the 33-year-old freelance photographer as a hobby, Tweeter Street is an online photo project that captures portraits of Twitter users re-enacting one of their tweets at the location they originally wrote it.
“I had just bought a new phone and I downloaded a few Twitter apps to see what they were all about,” Hughes explained, “I found a function called ‘nearby tweets’ and became fascinated by it.” The map I was looking at started to indeed show tweets sent by people nearby the coffee place in Paddington we currently were sitting in. “I thought it would be interesting to see these people in the environment where they tweet.”
The goal, he says, is to photograph 140 Twitter users (representing Twitter’s signature character limit) and eventually exhibit the work as well as publish it in a book. By providing a context to people’s tweets, he believes that the project make the Twitter experience more personal and human. “All you can see are people’s profile pictures and you don’t know anything about them. It can be emotionless and distant, but if you can see who and where the person is tweeting it, [Twitter] becomes humanised and real.”
However it is not just to pick 140 random people from the micro-blogging site and have them pose for a photo. Hughes does not only stand for the shooting of the portraits, he also personally trawls through the ‘nearby tweets’ to find suitable Twitter updates, contacts the user (via Twitter) and arranges a time to take the photo.“The difficult thing is to find tweets that will work. People just tweet whatever they want and I have to find those that will work as a photo,” he said. “It can’t just be someone tweeting ‘Good Morning’.”
(Image by Michael Hughes)
Even when he finds a suitable tweet and an author who is willing to have their picture taken, it does not always go according to plan. Hughes recalls one particular shoot which ended with a run-in with the police. “I was taking photos of @snakesandladies who tweeted that she was driving into London with snakes for a music video,” he said, smiling at the memory. “There were three or four snakes in the car and they were all crawling around. One of the snakes got adventurous and tried to go through the clutch pedal of the car and ended up getting stuck.”
Luckily, they managed to rescue the snake but just as they were finishing the shoot, the police showed up. “Apparently they had had complaints from the neighbours who thought we were shooting a porn magazine. “Once they ensured the officers that nothing dodgy was going on they were let off. Not counting the suspicion of being involved in taking adult pictures, the response for Tweeter Street has been positive so far, even from people in different ends of the world. “After I’d done a couple of radio shows, I’ve gotten a huge response from Twitter users in South Korea. Apparently, it’s quite big over there,” he said. “I get people on Twitter saying that they like my idea, which is nice because other people find out about it that way.”
That is the beauty of the micro-blogging site argues Hughes, to be able to tweet something and have that information shared, retweeted, by someone else and eventually reach someone on the other side of the world. ”You can reach people in places that you never imagined that you could reach. It’s amazing because it shows you the power of Twitter.”
By: Tiffany Phan