JR





JR is a 25-year-old Parisian of mixed race (he has Tunisian and eastern European blood), from a middle-class background. He never reveals his full name because it “would add nothing”. In his teens, he “tagged” as a graffiti artist, but only started taking photographs when he found a camera on the Paris M├ętro as a 17-year-old. He is now, in his own words, a hybrid “photograffeur”, who pastes enormous black-and-white photographic canvases in various urban environments. In Britain, his best- known work is certainly Ladj Ly — a photograph that captures all the tensions of the 2004 Paris suburb riots. But he has made his mark around the world.

JR says he is not political. Rather than being an “artist with a cause”, he is “an artist who causes people to think”. He has never caused more ructions than he did in Israel and Palestine, where he pasted photographs of three religious worthies — a rabbi, an imam and a priest — pulling silly faces. JR put their pictures everywhere: in Ramallah, in Tel Aviv and, most famously, on the wall that separates Israel from the West Bank. He was arrested by the Israeli army for his trouble-making.

“It was frightening sometimes,” he admits. “There is a real conflict going on there that I was very aware of. But I was never saying, ‘I want to change this or that.’ The reaction of everyday people to what I was doing was great. They would give me the walls of their houses to do it. The art made a lot of sense to people. Pasting a picture of an Israeli and a Palestinian together on a wall in Ramallah is really quite a strong thing to see.”

The action was more than an artistic success. The imam and the rabbi who featured in the photographs became friends. They even travelled to Europe together to paste their own photos in Geneva and deliver a lecture in Paris. But JR makes no grand claims for his work. Indeed, he admits every other minute: “I know what I do does not change the world . . . it can only make a difference to how a few people look at the world.”

-Times Online UK

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