Saturday, April 12, 2014

Billboard Effect: Sweeping Montage Puts a Human Face on Poverty in Rio’s Favelas

French photographer JR shoots provocative
black-and-white photos, enlarges them to 
billboard-size, then cuts and pastes 
them into sweeping narratives

Funny how the digital age has redefined terms like “billboard,” “cut and paste,” and “posting.” For our purposes here their meaning is strictly old-school and low-tech.  

JR is a young French photographer known for his provocative black-and-white photos, which he enlarges to billboard-size prints and then, working hurriedly under cover of night, cuts and illegally pastes them on large walls in public urban spaces.  Much of JR’s work makes a political statement, putting hauntingly real faces on serious social issues

For one project JR spent a year taking portraits of victimized women in Africa, Asia and South America. His goal was to showcase strong, courageous women struggling amid oppression and poverty. 

A profound example of this is JR's unauthorized 2008 “installation” in Rio de Janiero's infamous favela Morro da Providencia. These images are especially pertinent now as many favela residents are being evicted as part of Brazil's controversial "clean up" for the World Cup in June of this year and the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

Images such as these need no written explanation.
Their scale and presentation make his message 
disruptive and thought-provoking. 

While some of JR’s installations are done legally, 
many such as this one are hastily cut and 
pasted up under cover of night.

Listen to this audio interview and you will find JR downright genial. Frankly, I’d expected someone angry and radical, but then I realized that JR's images are in the voice of a warmly compassionate storyteller. His artistic process includes using harsh, authentic settings because they give his images impact, context and relevance. It's interesting that JR began as a Paris graffiti artist and then gravitated to the billboard-like platform favored by advertisers.

Beyond words. One image expresses outrage 
and empathy for residents struggling invisibly. 

JR’s work reminds me that a compelling story can be told simply in a style and format that may not require words, sound -- or links. 

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