Local Context for Paparazzi style Photography

In the local context, there is no prominent paparazzi scene (and in fact some celebrities in the region for example, Hong Kong celebrities actually enjoy coming to Singapore for this reason). Hence it would be interesting to see how subjects would react when faced with a paparazzi swarm.

One of the closest example I can think of that can approximate the paparazzi encounter is the the mass of media representatives who swarm around prosecutors and defendants outside the compounds of a court during prominent court hearings.

For example, in the pictures of the ongoing City Harvest church trial (sample pictures below), we can see a group of photographers (and videographers) trying to surround the defendants to record stills, or moving image footage, of them. It is typically a quick and chaotic encounter as all involved joust for space, and with the defendants usually moving quickly into a nearby parked vehicle to be whisked away from the media.

CHC Swarm 01

(from http://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/what-is-buzzing/archive/19.html)

CHC Swarm 02


(from http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/trial-city-harvest-leaders-resumes)

The Offence Of Photography

This article made rounds amongst the local community on the Internet awhile back and I think it is a poignant reminder of the potent psychological and physiological impact the camera can have on us.

In this case, the sheer number of people doing the image capture, the underlying sexual undertones of the act of image capture, and the male gaze upon the female body as an object of desire, all come together to create a situation that led to the subjects feeling distressed.

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 16.22.20

In some ways, the swarm aspect of this incident relates to what I hope to create as well with my paparazzi swarm – the mass unibody group operating as a image making collective engaging upon an individual or a smaller group of people.

It is also interesting to note that in this particular incident the photographs were made on cellphone cameras – a device that is considerably much smaller than a full sized dedicated camera, and one that is typically associated with a more stealthy style of shooting. Yet in this case, the device is used in a very obvious manner. Perhaps the size of the camera may not matter as much in certain contexts? Or does the potential internet connectivity on these phones create a greater sense of discomfort since it is knowingly possible that the phone can capture, transmit, broadcast or transfer the digital image in a matter of seconds.

Lastly, it should also be observed that the subjects themselves eventually took to making images of these men as a way to cope with the situation. Perhaps as pictorial evidence of these aggressors and/or a way to simulate and reflect back the “pictorial assault” to them.

You can read more about the incident below:



Between you and I…It’s a PostSecret

PostSecretScreenshot of the PostSecret website landing page

PostSecret is a project created by Frank Warren. It has its beginning in 2005 and has since manifested across various forms including a website, books, films and museum exhibitions.

“PostSecrets is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard.”

The main premise of the concept involves having anonymous individuals send in postcards written with secrets they would like to divulge. Frank and his team then makes a selection amongst them and has them published or displayed on its various platforms. The content is

While the idea itself is relatively simple, the project is nevertheless evocative, opening up questions about privacy, anonymity, our innate need for a sense of connectedness and community.

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Since its inception in 2005, countless other platforms and similar websites have sprung up allowing individuals to share their inner most thoughts and sentiments they would otherwise perhaps not openly share with others.

Locally, “Confessions” websites and pages have been a popular outlet. There is even one for the NTU community.

NTU Confessions

Personally, the fact that PostSecrets seeks for contributors to mail in actual postcards with their messages physically written on them is  rather interesting. The steady decline in sending snail mail has been in place since email communications took over as the primary means for allowing sending letters to others. Yet, many still take the effort to send in their postcards to PostSecret. Often these postcards become little pieces of artistic expression that feature various collaging, deconstructive, and text-visual juxtaposition techniques.

The physicality of these messages in the form of the hardcopy postcard is an interesting point because PostSecret had an iOS app revoked late 2011 because there was a far higher volume of malicious comments and entries posted through the app than what moderators could cope with.

This distinction in the medium resulting in two very different outcomes hints at what we know for some time now – the cloak of anonymity and instant connectivity provided by the web encourages a more superficial, trigger-happy engagement.

Another aspect that PostSecret deals with is the negotiation of space between what is considered private and public. The voluntarily decision to give up one’s date (or secret) here is an interesting juxtaposition to the myriad of spying and data collection techniques and technologies used by various government agencies and corporations. Many of which are compulsory (in exchange of the use of certain services) or are committed secretly without the knowledge of the target.

This all points to the value of data. What is the bytes upon bytes of our digital trail and physical whereabouts worth? To whom is it worthy? And what can we do with the data to render it useful for various purposes?

Overall, PostSecret’s success and relevance even in today’s fickle climate is testament to its lasting appeal as a platform for individuals to reach out to others in a cathartic and anonymous fashion.

The following are two videos that PostSecret has produced in recent years as part of its efforts to diversify its output.

Paparazzi Test Shoot

On 24 March 2014, a friend and I conducted some preliminary tests on the paparazzi idea. Though it is a much scaled down version than the actual idea, it gave some interesting results.

The following is a selection of some of the results:



#1 – Unknown couple
Expectedly they grew wary of the presence of the cameras and flash and began speeding up their walk to get away from us



#2 – Unknown lady
The lady seemed curious about what we were doing but ultimately did little than to look up from her phone to look at us



#3 – Unknown male student
Again similar to #2, but this male student was evidently more apprehensive about what we were doing



#4 – Two unknown male students

This two male students remained largely indifferent to the cameras and our picture making antics.



#5 – Unknown male student

This male student was evidently curious and apprehensive about having this photo taken but ultimately did little to enquire or approach the photographers.



#6 – Unknown female student

We decided to test a different approach, instead of trying to catch people in transit, we wanted to catch people while they were doing something. Here we photographed a female student working away in an open study area. She became aware of our presence and picture taking actions after a few shots. Interesting, she decided to shy away from the camera instead of confronting the photographers.

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Interestingly though my friend and I photographed dozen of people in an obvious manner, only 3 of our subjects sought clarification about what we were doing. This deviates from my initial expectation that people would be more shy or aggressive towards having their image taken.

An addition passerby (an unknown adult male) who saw what was happening did approach us to enquire what we were going to use the images for. Though he dispensed his recommendation that we should actively inform the subjects of our project, he too was surprised at the low number of people who actively objected or enquired about what we were doing.

There are various possible reasons why this dominant behaviour could have occurred. The safety of the school environment could possibly account for this. The subjects may have assumed we were part of the campus student reportage team.

It may also be possible that the younger generation is much more comfortable in the presence of the camera or having their images taken by others. Hence, they objected less actively to our actions.

On the end of the photographers, it was evident that both my friend and I were initially apprehensive about the possible reactions we might receive for attempting to directly photograph our subjects. In the end, we were both surprised that so few actively approached us after their photo was taken.

Overall, it was an interesting experiment. The results herein will serve as a useful point of reference for the actual shoot.

Project Hyperessay Technical Realisation

The following sets for the tentative plans for the technical realisation of the final project:


  • Searching for participating photographers to form the “paparazzi swarm” (approximately 6-10 pax, excluding myself); with consideration of camera type, camera size, photographers’ availability, photographers’ gender (?), photographers’ physique (?)
  • Coordinating the dressing attire of participating photographers
  • The preparation of image usage and limited liability releases
  • Location scouting and selection of venue to shoot the project at
  • Working out a system to ensure proper project archival
  • Preparing official faculty backed letter to deal with public participants who might request to see the project’s accreditation (aka dealing with irate public participants)
  • Planning for backup cameras in case of equipment failure
  • Planning for contingency plans in case of poor weather on original shoot date
  • Planning for a system to coordinate the paparazzi swarm while in the field
  • Plan for high frame rate video capture of shooting process (tentative)


  • Ensuring that the participating photographers have their cameras and flash working; doing an equipment check before shooting
  • Have subjects and participating photographers to endorse releases officially
  • Proper digital file archival and organisation system to deal with image output from participating photographers; on location backup to ensure data redundancy
  • Setting up positions and provision of instructions to participating photographers so to which angle to shoot from, what to capture, distance from subject to be in etc.
  • Actualise the coordination and control of the paparazzi swarm
  • Setup of high frame rate video capture; camera with tripod


  • Selection and post-production of images shot
  • Printing and mounting of images (tentative)
  • Editing of high frame rate video capture
  • Creation of online gallery/website for online display of images (tentative)

List of Equipment Required

  • Digital cameras with wide to medium telephoto focal length
  • Flash (either pop up flash or external flash)
  • Batteries for flash
  • Batteries for camera
  • Spare memory cards
  • Image usage and limited liability release forms
  • Pens to sign release forms with
  • Clipboard for release forms
  • Laptop with card reader to transfer images from cameras
  • Backup hard drive to ensure data redundancy
  • Letter of Accreditation

Project Hyperessay Role Of The Viewer

(Ideas set forth here in this is tentative and subjected to revisions as the project develops)

The role of the viewer in this project is at once both passive as it is active.

Passively, the viewer is watching the performative aspects of the work (e.g. the paparazzi swarm closing in on a subject), acting as an observer of the event. The viewer is also in a more traditional passive stance, when they encounter the presentation of the work after its completion.

However the viewer moves into a more actively state when they become the subjects of these photographs. Their every reaction is codified into an aesthetic image through the application of the frame, lighting  and image recording. What they do in that instance as they react to the cameras becomes materialised and is placed under scrutiny of the still frame.

This duality in the roles that the viewer can play puts forth an interesting tension between the two states and raising questions about the interlocking relationships between the two.

What happens when one swiftly transits from the passive into the active state? Is there shock, or indifference?

How does being in these two contrasting states of participation in the work create a dichotomy in how the viewer approaches and accesses the work?

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The presentation of the work would also inherent affect the level and type of participation viewers may have with the project. Tentative ideas include the creation and curation of an online gallery with commenting features to allow more interactivity and textual expression of the viewers’ reaction to the work. 


The Camera As An Instrument To Augment Human Interaction and Behaviour (or how I have a final project idea)

After several weeks of moving back and forth between various ideas, I finally came upon one that I’ll be exploring under the our final project for this Media & Performance class.

I was searching for an idea that incorporated an element of the camera (you can read my initial ideation here: http://oss2014.adm.ntu.edu.sg/weilong/project-hyperessay-work-in-progress/) functioning not just as an instrument of image capture, but also as a physical object that exerts a psychological and physiological change on us.

I decided to look at the much maligned form of photography known as “paparazzi photography”.

The direct flash, chaotic composition, celebrity subjects are all part of the visual language of paparazzi photography.  Its intrusive, aggressive and voyeuristic nature are also hallmarks of such a mode of photography.

As a media product, these pictures feed into the larger media and pop culture machinery, stimulating the insatiable demand of the public or curious onlookers for a peek into the lives of the rich and famous.

Tabloid 1 Tabloid 2

Screenshots of paparazzi style photographs found on tabloid and celebrity gossip website, The Superficial.


Much like the above examples, these photographs often accompany written articles to produce a visual/text product that freely mixes between ridicule, the salacious and objectification. The subjects themselves often have little to no control to how they are portrayed, and are at best, flatten into simplistic, and easily understood caricatures.

But what happens when such a device is used to photograph the common man? Can such a mode of working reveal a truth or evoke situations for us to understand better how contemporary society relates to photography and the camera?

The work of Bruce Gilden (that’s him below) comes to mind when I began thinking upon these lines. His controversial style of street photography challenges (even till today) what we can accept as “proper” behaviour of a photographer, and what a good photograph is.

Bruce Gilden 2
Bruce Gilden (From: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2011/06/24/bruce-gilden-asshole-or-genius/)

Gilden gets up close to his unsuspecting subjects and fires his flash into their path. This produces intriguing and unusual pictures with unique results.

Bruce Gilden
Bruce Gilden shooting up and close. (From: http://www.flickr.com/groups/onthestreet/discuss/72157631750358357/

But of course Gilden was probably not coming from/functioning in the capacity of a paparazzi photographer as he approached making his work. Though his lack of regard for social norms (e.g. not getting to someone’s face) recalls the aggressive practices of paparazzi photographers.

The work of Philip-Lorca DiCorcia also comes to mind. The photographer’s Heads series (some examples below) features photographs captured of unsuspecting passersby through the use of hidden strobes. Though, the aesthetic adopted here by DiCorcia is notably much more nuanced and poetic; much less aggressive than the work of Gilden.

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia’s ‘Heads’ series.

So really, what I hope to investigate through this project is how paparazzi style photography when applied to shooting the layman in the context of contemporary Singapore can become a premise for which to access observations about the relationship between us, the camera, and images; negotiating between the private and public domain.