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JR Asks Us To Face Up

by Gail Sachson 14 Jan 2014 10:04 PM

Internationally renowned photographer JR has brought his “Inside Out” project to the Dallas Contemporary – have your poster-sized portrait join thousands of faces he’s put up worldwide.


Inside outwideJR’s “Inside Out” at Dallas Contemporary. Photo credits: Jerome Weeks (above), Gail Sachson (below)

Guest Blogger Gail Sachson, former Chair of the Dallas Cultural Affairs Commission and Vice Chair of the Dallas Public Art Committee, owns Ask Me About Art, offering lectures, tours and program planning. She is leading the group bus tours for the Nasher XChange Public Art Project. Because of their popularity an additional tour has  been added for February 8. Contact Ester at the Nasher: 214- 242-5178

JR is the thirty-year-old French graffiti artist, filmmaker and photographer, whose larger-than-life paper portraits installed in public places all over the world have won for him the 2011 TED Prize (see his TED talk here).  To celebrate the opening of his show, “Inside Out,” JR held a conversation last week at the Dallas Contemporary.

Inside Out” is a variation of earlier projects in which he took photos, usually of the downtrodden of the world, in the Middle East, South America, Hong Kong and even the North Pole, printed them poster-size and pasted them, often under darkness, in buildings, on walls and on whatever unconventional surfaces he chose. “We were not supposed to change anything”, he said. “These were just art projects. Not social justice projects. We never forecasted the outcome. Art is the only job you can fail at,” he said, “yet still feel  successful.” The process itself was rewarding, and JR feels he got more than he gave. Yet he gave the voiceless a voice and a larger-than-life public identity.

The  surprising locations of these oversized portraits —  on rooftops, in half demolished buildings, on staircases and sidewalks — the incongruous pairings,  the  searing stares and the warmth of the subjects’ unexpected smiles often inspired others to a cause. Or at least were cause for reflection to passersby.

JReditJR’s wish then was to turn the power of those portraits inside out and give that power to the people photographed. Thus began his global “Inside Out” project. JR became the enabler of his subjects. In Dallas, your photo will be snapped in the mobile Photobooth truck. Then it will be printed poster size, 36″ x 53,” immediately in the same truck and spit out for you to curate. (The fully-equipped, picture-taking, poster-printing truck is part of the Contemporary exhibit — it’s been designed to look like a giant camera.)

Will you leave it with the Contemporary to add to the hundreds of photos lining the walls, covering the floors and hung like laundry within the space ? Will you take it home and frame it? Will you run out, buy some wheat paste and plaster it in a strategic spot to make a statement?  Will you motivate others to make that statement with you?

“Inside Out” will remain insular and an insider’s show — unless Dallas faces the challenge of finding the power of our portraits and pasting them in schools, streets, staircases, bedrooms, barrooms, backyards, parks and trails. I know: There are city regulations and restrictions. But JR says, “Sometimes you don’t need city leadership. Just do it.” Although he remains hidden behind sunglasses, a fedora and a set of initials, JR is arguably one of the more humane artists of our generation. The Contemporary has already partnered with private landowners to plaster a wall in Deep Ellum and is planning a wall at Trinity Groves.

If you decide to have your photo taken, regardless of what you do with it, you would join the more than 175,000 others who have said “yes” to this project throughout the world. One Photobooth truck is based in Europe. Two in the U.S. (Prior to Saturday’s opening, there were already 400 Dallasites photographed). Hundreds have opted to send pictures via JR’s “Inside Out” website, photos which are then printed and sent back poster size.( A $20 donation per photo is suggested.) “The rest is up to them,” says JR. “The project is a mirror of society. What you do with that photo will tell who you are and what you stand for. Some make it art. Some frame them and hang them in their bedroom. Some want their story to travel. Some want political action. There is not a place where it’s better than another. It is local action for local impact. In the end of the day, what story are you going to tell with the photo?”