A Wish to Change the World: JR

On October 21, 2012 by S. A. Hawkins

africaIf someone gave you a six-figure check and only one stipulation, “make a wish to

change the world.” What would your wish be, what would you propose, what would

be your plan. This is not the type of project that is for the weak willed or the faint of

heart, this is for the dreamers, the doers, the one’s with the ideas that are so big that

they simply are not possible without global participation and monetary backing

from someone with deep pockets.

In this case, the “someone” is the TED Foundation, you may recognize the name

from the televised lecture series that they put on, TED Talks. The person that they

asked to “make a wish to change the world” in 2011 was street artist, JR. “Inside

Out, The People’s Art Project” is a documentary that follows the project that

stemmed from JR receiving the TED Grant.

If you are not familiar with JR, then you most likely do not live in any major city

around the world and you do not follow contemporary art. From my point of view,

JR is the hottest non-blue chip contemporary photographer, working in one of the

newly accepted main stream art forms, street art. JR comes from a graffiti

upbringing, but what he does now, simply stated, is not graffiti. JR is known for

wheat pasting large scale portrait based photo’s in the public realm, traversing the

globe, using this most simple of formats to affect change.


The documentary, “Inside Out, The People’s Art Project,” chronicles some of the many

mini-projects that fell under the umbrella of the JR’s Ted Grant Project. The movie is

real, gritty, at times in your face, at other times so touching that all watching the

movie with me were wiping tears. How can you sum up a project that touched the

world in less than one hour of video? You can’t, all you can do is show some of the

projects, some of the photos, some of the people’s who’s lives were touched and

ultimately changed for the better because their path’s crossed JR’s.

Back to the start… A six figure check and a wish to change the world. How can this

be done with something that most all of us do on a daily basis with our cell phones —

take a picture. And not only that, but with the most simple and one of the oldest

styles of photography – portraiture.


In JR’s own words — “I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by

participating in a global art project, and together we’ll turn the world…INSIDE OUT.”

How this photographer managed to accomplish this mind-boggiling feat, nearly

150,000 poster sized portraits based in over 98 countries was by not taking one of

the pictures himself. He was simply the catalyst, the muse, the vehicle which

allowed others to initiate project that they couldn’t have done without assistance.

Following three simple rules, any one, anywhere in the world could upload a digital

file to the Inside Out website and JR would print out your portrait in a poster-sized

format and mail it back to the submitter. Those three simple rules were 1) It must

be a portrait, 2) No logos could be visible in the photo, 3) The photos could not

involve any “messages of hate.” That was it, anything else goes, smiles, frowns,

The documentary focuses on the human element rather than the project in its

grandiose scheme, following how this global art project has affected real peoples

lives in locations as far apart as North Dakota, Haiti, and Tunsia. As people on the

screen cry so do people in the theater.


The Ted Grant projects official last one year, but JR’s project has continued after the

end of that year. He states “how am I supposed to stop when the photos just keep

coming.” JR is now funding the project through his own means, whether it be

through savings, sales of his artworks or donations by like minded humans.

If someone tells you that one person can never change the world, that art can never

save lives in poverty ridden countries, that people cannot come together to create

something better; rather than wasting your breathe trying to explain all of the

points in which they are wrong… Simply give them a copy of JR’s “Inside Out, The

People’s Art Project” and talk to them an hour later.

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