French artist JR creates large-scale public photography projects in cities around the world that address local political conflicts. He has become one of the most visible contemporary artists on the planet. Ironically, he is also one of the most private, identifying himself only by his initials and always wearing sunglasses and a fedora in public.
JR’s fellow street artist Shepard Fairey calls him “…the most ambitious person I know”.
With a Tunisian mother and European father, JR grew up on the outskirts of Paris. He started out as a graffiti tagger using the moniker Face 3 before moving to photography, taking pictures of other street artists at work. He still calls himself a “photograffeur.”
In 2004, after riots broke out in Paris, JR created his first major project, photographing the faces of the rioters and pasting up large prints of their faces around the city. In 2007, he pasted portraits of Arabs and Jews on walls throughout Israel and the West Bank for the project Face2Face, and in 2008, after the government-involved murder of three young men in Rio de Janeiro’s Morro da Providência neighborhood led to riots, he plastered enormous pictures of the eyes of the community’s women, including relatives of the dead youths, on buildings looking down into the city for a project he calls Women Are Heroes.
After winning the 2011 TED Prize, JR inverted his practice for the project Inside Out, inviting people around the planet to send him photographs of themselves that he would then print out at large scale and send back to them to mount publicly. Participants have ranged from North Dakota’s Lakota nation to the revolutionary Tunisian protesters. In 2012, JR created a giant photo booth at the Centre Pompidou. His film of the Woman Are Heroes premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
“The fact that art cannot change things makes it a neutral place for exchanges and discussions, and then enables it to change the world. What is most fascinating to me is involvement.”