One Hundred & Forty Characters

One Hundred and Forty Characters: The Poster! See how to buy one at the end of this post.

In July 2010 I decided to begin photographing people that I follow on Twitter. The idea for this came at a moment when I realised I had not seen or spoken to any of my best half a dozen real and actual friends for over a month. Some of those people on Twitter I communicate with several times a week, in bursts of 140 characters or less, and yet I had never met any of them. As we are now well and truly living in a digital age I am aware that this state of being is only going to deepen and the traditional forms of friendship, although they will not go away anytime soon, are going to have to make more room for the new way of doing things. Where Facebook might be considered as the place in which you tell lies to all the people you went to school with, I had begun to think of Twitter as the place where you tell the truth to all those that you wish you’d gone to school with. The project rolled on indefinitely for almost a year but when, one day, I counted up the number of subjects to date and came to a number in the mid one hundred and thirties, I immediately knew where this had to end. So here they are. My new friends. 140 characters. No more and no less.

I am one week short of taking a full year to get to this point and, for those of you that are interested, here is the original post from July 2010, explaining it all right at the start. Reading it back, I am struck by how much my inspiration stayed the course. The digital nature of being a photographer today remained the prime raison d’etre for the project. Humans are pack animals, despite what we may or may not believe at any given point in our daily/weekly/monthly/yearly cycle of highs and lows. I am definitely happier when in the presence of stimulating company and the demise of film and all the trips to film related places (photographic stores, labs, printers etc) has played a big role in the erosion of those opportunities, as well as leaving a huge social void that is yet to be filled by something equally physical or new. Nor is anything likely to, we are too wedded to the convenience of the computer and the immediacy of digital delivery. I mean, come on, who is going to go back to sitting around waiting for clip tests ever again? Or be full steam ahead with heavenly raptures of transcendence for the deadline dodging motorcycle courier? Then there’s international clients. Fedexing contact sheets? You’re out of your frigging mind. So far, Twitter has plugged the hole, in the sense that it has created an opportunity for me to talk to people on a daily basis while I’m at work. What constitutes me being at work is vast swathes of time during the week, where I am sat alone at a computer for hours and hours and hours. The furthest my intellect gets stretched during these periods is when I get to do ‘Ctrl+C’ followed by ‘Ctrl+V’.

In addition, I’m also really, really nosey and I wanted to see what all these people that I had begun to ‘talk to’ were like and, equally importantly, what they sounded like. I needed to meet them. Further down this post is an audio/visual slide show that features a whole load of the one forty alongside an audio edit of many of them talking about Twitter. What it reveals, that Twitter does not reveal by itself, are the accents. I love just hearing all the accents and I love that the British Isles, despite what we may think about the gradual homogenisation of our regional dialects, still throws up a wonderful ploughman’s platter of chat. I played it to my dad, who is a 69 year old retiree, out of the world for 4 years, and does not engage in Twitter or any other forms of social media. After listening to it he said: “I’m not so pessimistic for the future after hearing that. In fact, I’m quite optimistic. People are still thoughtful, still intelligent and still funny. We’ll be alright.”

I never joined Facebook, or any of those other ones, so why has Twitter, after two and a half years, remained entrenched in my daily life? I can only come to one conclusion. Whereas Facebook seems to allow the user to construct a perceived or projected existence for themselves through the deployment of various convenient aids, Twitter just strips it all away and leaves the user with nothing but the utilitarian tool of 140 characters and the imagination of language. Over a sustained period of time or patch of ground you are always going to betray yourself. By that I mean that you will, layer by layer, reveal who you are and this will continue to be an ongoing and ever revelatory process. Other users will continue to be attracted to that or not, and vice versa. It’s really quite binary, whilst being relentlessly deep and wide, which I like. A lot.

As someone said to me, Twitter is “a huge, massive, endless free flowing conversation with lots of interesting, witty people.” What more is there to say? If you don’t get it, then you just don’t get it.

Not Actual Size

To celebrate the end of the project I have commissioned a limited print run of 500 posters. Designed by Wayne Ford, the posters (shown above) are A1 in size (840mm x 594mm) and were printed in England using a lithographic tritone process consisting of a warm grey 4, a book black and a process black on 135gsm Omnia paper stock. They are £15 each inc P&P. Email me at to order.

Here also is a 14 minute slideshow of all the portraits that were produced for ‘One Hundred and Forty Characters’ accompanied by an audio edit of many of those who took part talking about Twitter with wit, thoughtfulness and insight, as well as a varying range of accents, which is something that you never think about when reading these people’s words.

And finally, if you’d prefer to just listen to the audio, which is just the straight 14 minutes of human ingenuity and interestingness on one subject all by itself then click here to listen to an Audioboo file while you go about other important tasks.