In March of 2011 an artist named JR won the 2011 TED prize at the TED Conference. Through a TED Talk, JR spoke of how art could change the world. JR talked of when he was 15 years old and made illegal graffiti art on the buildings and rooftops of Paris, originally worked anonymously to avoid trouble with the police. JR found inspiration from a lost camera he picked up in the Paris subway. He began taking pictures of his “criminal,” friends who made scary faces to enhance the photos. JR would paste the photos with wheat paste on to the walls of buildings and outline them with spray paint.
It was from these humble beginnings that JR began to realize what a powerful statement photos could be. JR began to travel around the world, taking portrait pictures with his camera.
In a project Face-to-Face, JR would pasts an enlarged photo two people with the same job next to each other, one person was Palestinian the other Israeli. When asked about his posters people were originally horrified at the concept, until they realized they could not tell which person was Israeli and which one was Palestinian.
In another project called Women are Heroes, JR had men post pictures of women’s faces. He posted the enlarged faces, this time made of vinyl, on rooftops, as useful art. The media could not see us from their helicopters and had to ask the women whose faces were in the portraits what we were doing, JR said. In this way the media had to interact on a face-to-face basis with the people in the town.
With his unique process, JR started a global project called INSIDE OUT, in which people send pictures of themselves, which JR enlarges in black and white and sends back. The person then hangs the picture up in a public space. Over 120,000 people from more than 108 countries have participated. JR concludes his TED Talk by saying though art cannot change the world it can change the way we perceive it, which can help us change the world ourselves. It is through art, this “neutral” arena that JR works with through ideas of commitment, freedom, identity and limits.