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Photographer & Street Artist

JR began his career as a teenage graffiti artist who was by his own admission not interested in changing the world, but in making his mark on public space and society. His graffiti efforts often targeted precarious places like rooftops and subway trains, and he enjoyed the adventure of going to and painting in these spaces. After finding a camera in the Paris Metro, JR and his friends began to document the act of his graffiti painting. At the age of 17, he began applying photocopies of these photographs to outdoor walls.

JR later travelled throughout Europe to meet other people whose mode of artistic expression involved the use of outdoor walls. Then, he began wondering about the vertical limits, the walls and the façades that structure cities. After observing the people he met and listening to their message, JR pasted their portraits up in the streets and basements and on the roof tops of Paris.

Between 2004 and 2006, JR created Portraits of a Generation, portraits of young people from the housing projects around Paris that he exhibited in huge format. This illegal project became official when the City of Paris put JR’s photos up on buildings. At the beginning of his projects, JR wanted to bring art into the street: "In the street, we reach people who never go to museums."

In 2007, with Marco, JR put up enormous photos of Israelis and Palestinians face to face in eight Palestinian and Israeli cities on either side of the Separation Barrier. Upon his return to Paris, he pasted these portraits up in the capital. For the artist, this artistic act is first and foremost a human project: "The heroes of the project are all those who, on both sides of the wall, allowed me to paste the portraits on their houses."

In 2008, JR undertook an international tour for Women Are Heroes, a project in which he highlights the dignity of women who are often targets during conflicts.

On 20 October 2010, JR won the TED Prize for 2011. He used the $100,000 award money to start the Inside Out Project, a global art initiative that has allowed thousands of people around the world to speak to their communities through portraits pasted in public space. This prize brought him and his work to New York City where he opened another studio, and inspired pastings in the area such as those done in 2011 of members of the Lakota Native American Tribe from North Dakota. In 2013, he continued working in New York City, with the Inside Out Project in Times Square, which challenged advertising with a massive work of art consisting of thousands of portraits of locals and tourists.

In January 2014, JR collaborated with the New York City Ballet for their second annual Art Series program, by exhibiting work in the theatre in Lincoln Center, including an interactive piece on the floor of the promenade. This collaboration led JR to explore the artistic medium of choreography in another project with the ballet months later.

JR calls himself an "urban artivist", he creates pervasive art that he puts up on the buildings in the Paris area projects, on the walls of the Middle East, on the broken bridges of Africa or in the favelas of Brazil. During the pasting phase, community members take part in the artistic process. In Brazil, for example, children became artists for a week. In these artistic acts, no scene separates the actors from the spectators.

After having exhibited in the cities from which JR’s subjects came, the photos traveled from New York to Berlin, Amsterdam to Paris As JR remains anonymous and does not frame his huge portraits, he leaves a space for an encounter between a subject/protagonist and a passerby/interpreter, and this is the essence of his work.

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