National Geographic : 2013 Sep
Prince of Prints JR spent three weeks of the spring in what looked like a food truck, parked in Times Square. But instead of food, the French artist dished out oversize photographs. The subjects, a cross-smattering of New Yorkers, could either take their portraits home or paste them on the streets with JR’s preferred tools: a brush and a bucket of wheat paste. For the past 13 years JR—who won’t reveal his full name—has been plastering portraits on outdoor surfaces throughout the world, often in places where he risks arrest or deportation and where his photos can take on political meaning. In the Kibera district of Nairobi, Kenya, he made pictures of women’s faces and cut their portraits in half. The top halves were pasted on trains, the bottoms on corrugated sheets on a slope leading down from the tracks. When a train passed, the portraits lined up for a split second, and the women, marooned in the margins of life, were momentarily made whole. You’ve taken photography to places where it’s never been. For me the beauty is that art can appear anywhere. I love when it appears in places that you would not necessarily expect it to appear. When I see people pasting their portraits in crazy places, when they haven’t been to a museum, I like that. That’s why photography should go to places like that. Anyone can [see] it. Why not everyone should enjoy it? How do you pick where you’re going next in the world? All the places, I went there because I saw it in my TV, and then I wanted to see it with my eyes. Every place that I’ve gone was in response to something that happened in the same year. In Kenya there was a riot. The Middle East, it’s all over the news every day. Have you ever failed? I went to North Korea and couldn’t do something. Sometimes society reminds you that art is not welcome everywhere. I’m not looking to go [against] laws; it’s just in the nature of my work that it sometimes goes [against] the laws. What was it like to go to Cuba? I realized that the people had never seen a portrait of anyone other than Fidel, Che, or Raúl. They would approach slowly and would be like, “Are these portraits of Fidel or Raúl but from another angle?” And we were like, “No, it’s Pablo. He lives right on the corner.” THE NEW AGE OF EXPLORATION | RISK TAKER By Melody Kramer Photograph by Marco Grob JR stands by an installation in bRooklyn. he collaboRated with aRtist daniel aRsham. watch marco Grob’s video interview with JR on our digital editions.