Known for billboard-sized photographic portraits of everyday people in urban settings, French street artist JR has a simple call to action: “Tell me what you stand for, and together we’ll turn the world inside out.” To transform his idea into reality, he created the Inside Out Project, the world’s largest participatory art project and a remarkable testament to the power of the image and the role art can play in transforming lives.
Directed by Alastair Siddons, the thought-provoking documentary INSIDE OUT: THE PEOPLE’S ART PROJECT explores this groundbreaking global art movement.
JR began photographing his friends illegally painting their names (“tagging”) in the metro and on roofs and later pasted the prints in the streets of Paris in 2001, saying that was when he learned “the power of paper and glue.” JR himself remains anonymous; his full name is unknown and he always wears sunglasses and a fedora in public and on camera.
The 2011 winner of the prestigious TED Prize, given annually to an extraordinary individual with a creative and bold vision to spark global change, JR was granted initial funding to make “a wish to change the world.” The resulting Inside Out Project empowers people across the globe, often in perilous and politically unstable environments, to create their own photographic messages.
In his Paris studio, JR explains how Inside Out works: People take photo portraits – no logos or hate messages allowed – and send them to him. He then prints giant versions of the images for free and sends them back. “It’s up to them to paste it up in a place with meaning,” he notes. These exhibitions are documented, archived and viewable virtually at insideoutproject.net.
INSIDE OUT: THE PEOPLE’S ART PROJECT follows the globetrotting JR as he motivates communities to define their most important causes by pasting large portraits in the streets and testing the limits of what they thought possible. To date, over 130,000 people have sent photos to Inside Out, pasting the enlargements in more than 10,000 locations in more than 100 countries, including Brazil, Tunisia, Pakistan, Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, France and the U.S.
The film offers glimpses of the everyday challenges facing individuals in some of the world’s most economically depressed and volatile areas, showing how Inside Out provides a means of self-expression and a way for people who have been invisible to feel recognized.
INSIDE OUT: THE PEOPLE’S ART PROJECT visits locations around the world, including:
Haiti – Two years after the earthquake that killed 316,000 people, the rubble remains and half a million people still live in tents. With the help of the kinetic Teleghetto crew, photographer Benoit takes pictures of residents against Inside Out’s signature polka-dot background. Remarkably, in spite of their hardships, the subjects make funny faces. Benoit says the portraits will send a hopeful message: Even though Haiti is in crisis, there are still positive things happening here.
Tunisia – The uprisings that swept the Arab world in 2011 were sparked by the Tunisian revolution. Although President Ben Ali was toppled, the country remains in a state of transition today. Photographers Aziz, Serena, Sophia and Hichem describe how huge posters of Ben Ali were everywhere during his rule. Today, through Inside Out, their goal to replace them with portraits of everyday people is realized.
North Dakota – Home to 8,000 Native Americans, the Standing Rock Reservation has experienced a wave of youth suicides over the past decade. When JR heard the story of Jenny and Ted, whose 18-year-old son committed suicide, he sent them a massive photo of their son’s eyes, which they pasted to the side of a trailer. On seeing the striking finished mural, Ted says, “It was like walking into heaven.”
West Bank – Palestinian Abed lives in the West Bank, while his wife and kids live in a refugee camp. He worries that the concrete wall being built by the Israeli government will make it harder for them to see each other. Inside Out portraits of the children, pasted in their father’s house, provide comfort. “Now I will be able to see them every day,” Abed says.
Inside Out photo booths and photo trucks around the globe bring the project directly to the street, enabling the public to participate instantly, free of charge. Tens of thousands of portraits have been printed at photo booths in such locations as Paris, Arles, Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong, and by photo trucks in Kesennuma, Japan and across Israel and Palestine. In April, a photo truck also traveled to New York City areas affected by Hurricane Sandy, including the Staten Island waterfront, the Rockaways, Red Hook and Coney Island. In conjunction with the Times Square Alliance, an Inside Out photo truck is currently inhabiting New York City’s Times Square through May 10.
The film was an official Documentary Feature Spotlight selection at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.
Presented in Arabic, Creole, English, French and Spanish with English subtitles, INSIDE OUT: THE PEOPLE’S ART PROJECT shows that whatever the language, people can be united by photography, art and the desire for self-expression.
For more information, visit: Facebook: facebook.com/hbodocs; and Twitter: @HBODocs #InsideOut.
INSIDE OUT: THE PEOPLE’S ART PROJECT was directed by Alastair Siddons; produced by Emile Abinal; editor, Gregor Lyon; executive producers, Marco Berrebi, Jane Rosenthal, Leo Haidar and Sol Guy; co-producer, Guillaume Lefrançois; original music, Antonio Pinto; cinematographer, Patrick Ghiringhelli. For HBO: consulting editor, Geof Bartz; supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.