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Everyone has a secret. Frank Warren has several thousand of them, pasted and scribbled on four-by-six inch postcards, and locked away in stainless steel boxes. They’re not all his secrets, though more than one of his own are among them. They are the responses to the PostSecret invitation… they are the most intimate secrets of thousands of people, which they have never shared with anyone before.
PostSecret is described as “an ongoing community art project where people mail-in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard.” It began as an art project, evolved into a massively popular website, branched into a unique traveling art exhibit, and it is now a brand-new book. I procured a copy of this book today, and had a chance to give it a good, hard look. I also recently had the opportunity to converse with Frank Warren, the custodian of these secrets.
From the 350 or so postcards he receives weekly, Frank says that he personally selects all of the secrets to expose to the world. About twenty appear on the site weekly, and hundreds appear in his new book. I asked him whether he had ever regretted exposing his mailbox to the world. “No,” he replied, “But please do not ask my wife that question.”
Much like visiting the site, the experience when leafing through the pages of the book is vicarious and voyeuristic. The secrets are varying in mood, most of them erotic, tragic, silly, or forlorn. They say a lot about humanity; about the things that people carry around with them, unable to share for fear of being judged. Sometimes it is quite easy to identify with the moments of selfishness, disillusionment, regret, and shame that many of the postcards describe.
The artwork that accompanies the secrets speaks volumes on its own. PostSecret postcards feel more honest than a lot of other artwork, because the artists’ motives are not monetary or ego-driven. Of course some of the secrets must be phonies… There is no way to know which secrets are legitimate, and which are imaginative frauds; but there is some truth in all of them, even if the truth is that some people are willing to lie for a few hundred pixels of fleeting, anonymous fame.
When asked whether PostSecret has been host to any of his own deep, dark secrets, Frank replied, “I have submitted more than one to the project. And yes, facing it on a postcard and releasing it into a mailbox (even though it just returned to me) was therapeutic.” That’s easy to believe… the PostSecret website contains unsigned e-mails from people who have penetrated the anonymity to thank Frank for what his site has done for them, changing their lives and relationships in small but important ways. Frank describes the project as “the answer to an agnostic’s prayers.”
The book is a hardcover with 288 full-color pages, and there are many postcards in the book which have never appeared on the site. It’s a real page-turner, but not because of any gripping action or cliffhangers, but because it’s such a vicarious thrill to read about these anonymous peoples’ most intimate truths. After looking through it for an hour or so, my empathy muscles were all sore.
If you need a holiday gift for a person who is hard to shop for, a copy of PostSecret may just do the trick. It has some PG-13 content, but I didn’t notice anything too risque… The mail handlers probably intercept any of those postcards, and hang them in their post office lockers. That’s their secret.
There were a couple of small details I didn’t like about the book… for one, a few of the images span two pages, which makes them difficult to read in a thick hardcover book such as this one. Secondly, I think glossy pages would have suited the medium a bit better. But these are only minor complaints… By and large it’s a very well executed project, right down to the nice paper dust jacket.
What does Frank have in mind for the future of PostSecret? “I tend to follow where the project leads,” he answered, “I think that is the best course of action.”