Meet JR: Video interview and FAQ about the 2011 TED Prize winner

Posted by: Emily McManus

Want to know more about JR, the winner of 2011′s TED Prize? We did, and his team put together this video, above, with an overview of his work in his own words and images. And below, here’s an FAQ to answer the big questions. First:

Who is JR?
JR is an anonymous photographer and artist. In his work, he embeds into neighborhoods, favelas and villages around the world, photographing the people who live there and learning their stories — and then pasting his striking images onto massive local canvases: buildings, buses, roads and bridges. His latest global art project is called “Women Are Heroes.” (Watch the emotionally powerful trailer.)

Why JR?
JR embodies the many characteristics we look for in a winner: creativity, vision, leadership, and persuasion. His work is not just stunning. It is innovative, using collaborative storytelling techniques, which move the art of photography in a new and exciting direction. His work is about unlocking the power of possibility, revealing our true selves to those who live around us and then sharing those stories far and wide.

JR attracts loyalty and respect from both his subjects, his friends and volunteers who help him mount all of his exhibitions. The scale of his work is huge, not just the size of each individual portrait, or the amount of space each exhibition covers in one place, but the number of communities and countries each project involves.

How will JR work with the TED community?
As with all TED Prize winners, his wish will not be announced until TED2011 (March 2, 2011 to be exact). One thing we know for sure, he will need the support of the thousands of TEDsters around the world to participate and execute his wish on the ground. The collaborative spirit of his work means that he is open and ready to work with the TED community. It is not just an award but a partnership between the winner and TED.

Why a guerrilla artist?
Guerrilla art is about provocation and pushing limits to start dialogue. It has the capacity to engage and break down barriers in ways art in galleries or museums does not. The audience is often those who are least likely to be exposed to art. When guerilla art is practiced as is by JR, the work is not about him but about the community where it is placed — in subject, in execution, and in enjoyment.

Isn’t his work illegal?
JR is anonymous and works under the radar of the authorities. This allows him to exhibit in both unexpected and dangerous places. It allows him to travel to the countries and cities where his work will have the greatest impact. But, while he does not ask permission from the authorities, he does work directly with the communities in which he is exhibiting. People in the exhibit communities don’t just see the work, they make it. Elderly women become models for a day; kids turn into artists for a week. In this art scene, there is no stage to separate the actors from the spectators.

Several of his recent projects, such as “Unframed,” are done in conjunction with museums and festivals.

JR doesn’t allow any association with corporations. Will that be a problem?
JR’s success is based on his ability to remain anonymous and independent. We respect that and will nurture that. If this restricts the ways in which corporations can support the wish, we’re confident individuals and groups will step up to the plate in their place.

Comments (11)

  • sue todd commented on Jun 15 2011

    AMAZEING! im doing a prentation about JR and his greatful project, we need more open hearts!

  • Sam Knowlton commented on Apr 6 2011

    Any ideas how he prints such massive photos in such rural areas?? I would like to know

  • lina maría rodriguez gomez commented on Jan 31 2011

    Amazing method to involve the people with the art!!!

  • commented on Oct 22 2010

    Oh My God!!!
    Would you please do that project in Georgia and Abhazia?

  • woof read commented on Oct 21 2010

    it true peace + love + happy
    just like one hart

  • Mary Swan commented on Oct 21 2010

    I’m so glad JR has won the TED prize, his work has been an inspiration for a project I am currently engaged in with survivors of domestic abuse in the UK. In a time when the arts are being increasingly squeezed and devalued by governments worldwide, JR’s work is a sober reminder of the sheer power creative minds can have in raising awareness of global issues.

  • Dimitra Papageorgiou commented on Oct 21 2010

    Brilliant and inspiring!

    Is this video available for translation?

  • Logan Ru commented on Oct 21 2010

    I’m sorry, but these people don’t need art. They need help. Not soldiers, but people without guns and war.

    • Marc Edwards commented on Feb 21 2011

      these people need whatever happiness they can get, logun ru. can jr take the guns off the soliders and make them happy? no. but hes actually taken his best shot, in the only way he can. look at them laughing and smiling. it only takes a single moment of epiphany to change the mind set of one person, who can change the minds of a thousand more…who knows what his work has inspired over there. if it stops just one person from blowing the head of a 9 year old boy off with an ak47, or makes one person smile on a day they feel like they have nothing to smile about which we have video evidence of it doing, then he has contributed something special to the world.
      his art may not have the power to spark world peace, but jr has contributed a little bit of happiness to society in the most effective way he could…im pretty sure its done just as much or more good than it would have done if hed have thrown on a red cross tee-shirt and given out vaccines. we need both these type of forces in society.

  • Paul Trumble commented on Oct 21 2010

    JR’s work is a true inspiration, His projects have got more and more involved and powerfull over the years, i cant wait to see what his TED wish is. Many respects on choosing such a worthy Winner

  • Zen Cushion commented on Oct 20 2010

    The eyes on the trains are striking — and lining them up with the rest of the faces on the railroad embankment as the train goes by is pure genius.

    I am curious where he had his super-sized print work done when visiting some of those places.