So let’s get things straight from the start, we are not talking about the 10-gallon hat wearing villain from the TV show Dallas, we’re talking about the trilby and shades preferring French street artist JR – and if you haven’t heard of him then read on as he is one of the biggest names in the art world right now. His current London show ‘Giants – Body of Work’ at the new LazInc gallery space in Sackville Street, which is beautiful by the way, is on until 28th February and I would highly recommend a visit if you can make it.
This particular show offers you an insight into the preparation involved and the logistical planning to create the ginormous installations that he has become famous for. ‘Giants’ was displayed over scaffolding covering the buildings of Rio de Janeiro throughout the 2016 Olympics. As a photographer, working solely in black and white to avoid any confusion with conglomerate advertising billboards, the shots JR developed for the Olympics portray the beauty in athletic movement with enormous high jumpers leaping over the tops of buildings and giant swimmers diving into the sea.
His work is rooted in social conscience, in fact, that is where it all began. JR famously found a camera on the Paris metro and began documenting the graffiti world he inhabited, pasting photocopied photos rather than spraying tags.
One of these images documenting the riots in Paris in 2005 showing a guy holding a camera like a gun caught the attention of the global media which was part of his ‘Portrait of a Generation’ series. This generally consisted of super close up shots of the residents of the neighbourhood where the riots began, offering a human face to the media-slammed ‘rioters’ and were displayed in large format on the walls of Eastern Paris.
This led to JR organising what became the largest illegal photography exhibition when he visited the Middle East and plastered grand scale images of Palestinians and Israelis who do the same job face to face on the walls separating the two states. Conveying the message that people are people, they are the same, they do the same things and live the same lives, a taxi driver, a farmer, a religious leader - they should be united and not divided.
He first came to my attention when I saw prints of his ‘Women are Heroes’ project – for me, the scene he created by posting pictures of female eyes over the sides of building in the favelas of Brazil is just an overwhelming image. When I first saw it I immediately assumed it was a computer generated image. But then after discovering more about JR and his work, the fact that this particular project was to give recognition to those that are the primary victims of war, crime, rape, political and religious fanaticism, the local women and that he actually created it as a live installation just blew me away and I have been following his work ever since.
More recently he created a global art project ‘Inside Out’ utilising prize money he won from a TED talk which has become an ongoing exhibition. Essentially people have sent JR their portrait or they have been photographed in his mobile photo booth which prints out large scale images and hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have contributed. This really demonstrates the essence of JR’s work, it’s all about the people. He is not interested in working with companies or brands, he connects with people and it is the reaction of people to his work that he most values.
I’ve yet to see the road trip movie he has made with the renowned French director, Agnes Varda, ‘Faces Places’ which is a continuation of the ‘Inside Out’ project, but, incredibly it has been nominated for an Oscar and a number of other prestigious film awards. I wish them all the luck with that as the trailer looks awesome - check it out!!