Women Are Heroes - Documentary from JR

I am always looking for a reason to go to Paris (just ask everyone I’ve worked with). Right now, there are a few good ones, such as the exhibition at Addict Galerie, which has brought together American and European street artists and graffiti writers, including Doze Green, John “Crash” Matos and Smash 137, for its L’Art Urbain show. Acte2 Galerie is exhibiting some stunning photographs by Cedric Delsaux, who shot scenes of urban decay in France and Dubai and then digitally added characters and motifs from the “Star Wars” movies. And David Hockney, the 73-year-old British artist, is showing drawings he made on his iPad and iPhone at Fondation Pierre Berger-Louis Vuitton.

The main attraction for me, however, is a documentary, “Women Are Heroes” by the young French photographer and street artist who goes by the name JR, which opens in France this month.

JR - Women Are Heroes Trailer

JR Quick Facts

  • From France
  • Started photography with a camera he found in a subway
  • exhibits art in the streets for people who are not museum visitors

JR is known for taking large format black and white portraits and wheat-pasting wall-size prints in public spaces. He first emerged in 2004, shooting the faces of Paris street artists. In 2006, he traveled to the Middle East to photograph Israelis and Palestinians for his Face2Face project.

In 2007, JR embarked on a journey to some of the poorest regions in the world – Brazil, Africa, India – to document the burdens of women. “Arriving in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan or Kenya, I realized that the men were holding the streets, and I would have to confront them. They would be the curators of my exhibition,” he says in an interview with TED, the nonprofit conference series that awarded him its prestigious TED Prize (which includes $100,000) for 2011. “So I chose the women as the subjects because I think that the women reveal the whole condition of the society.”

He took photographs of the women he encountered and wheat-pasted them on the sides of buildings, on bridges, on walls and steps, on hillsides and rooftops, often recruiting the local children to help.

I wanted to confront those portraits with the streets

The villages are transformed into massive – almost incomprehensibly so – walls of a gallery, with the faces of the women stacked on top of each other. “I wanted to confront those portraits with the streets,” JR says.

The sheer enormity and visibility of the images is so staggering, especially when you consider that it’s primarily the work of one person. At the end of one video on view at his website, there are three huge portraits in a row on a hillside. Each images is from the nose down, but it’s really only when a train passes above them – each train car has been covered with a photograph of just a set of eyes – that you understand the conceit, as the eyes mix and match with the various bottom halves (sometimes to a comic effect).

“I’m not trying to change the world,” JR explains. “But you know when I see a smile up there in the favelas, or down there in Cambodia, in a way I feel like I’ve achieved my goal.”

 

Follow Richard S. Chang on Twitter: @r_s_c

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