Tag Archives: public

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.

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.