“What we see changes who we are. When we act together, the whole thing is much more than the sum of the parts.” – JR
Ever since the 90s, the elusive Parisian photographer JR has been pursuing a bold ambition: changing the world through art. But at the start of his artistic career, he didn’t know this. He was a teenager, marking the streets of Paris with graffiti, feeling more like a criminal than he did an artist.
It wasn’t until he found a camera on the metro that things began to change. He started photographing graffiti as well as creating it, taking photographs of the young people living in the Les Bosquets ghetto, and setting up underground exhibitions by sticking them on sidewalks and rooftops.
In 2005, things became more serious. Riots broke out on estates after two teeange boys died hiding from police in an electricity substation. JR wanted to challenge the term racaille, or “scum”, that Nicolas Sarkozy, then Minister of Interior, had used to describe them.
He joined forces with local artist Ladj Ly to photograph Les Bosquets’ young residents, pulling exaggerated expressions to caricature themselves, and then plastering these portraits all over the capital’s bourgeois district. He captured a generation who were fed up with poor housing and who were enraged by police aggression; a generation who wanted more.
Since then, JR has used the streets of the world as a canvas for political expression. In 2008, he turned the wall between Israel and Palestine into a gallery of faces, placing giant black and white photographs of Israelis and Palestinians next to one another, highlighting their similarities.
After winning the Ted prize, JR decided he wanted to involve as many people as he possibly could with his art. His participatory platform—Inside Out—enables individuals and communities to turn their untold stories into works of art. It has attracted contributors from every single continent of the globe, drawing attention to issues from racism to children’s rights to climate change.
The latest Inside Out project, Dyslexia: Beautiful Minds, is taking place at the Design Museum in London. Led by Kate Power and Kathy Iwanczak Forsyth— two creatives who have dyslexia—the exhibition sets out to depict the dazzling and diverse strengths of dyslexia.
For Kathy, a graphic designer, the visual medium of the exhibition was essential. “There’s so much talent out there and we’re all funneled into getting information out in one way: words on paper. It’s just really short-sighted.”
The two have co-authored The Illustrated Guide to Dyslexia and Its Amazing People and The Bigger Picture Book of Amazing Dyslexics and the Jobs They Do. “When we started out on this adventure, it was important for us that it spoke in a different language, especially because a lot of dyslexics don’t like reading or looking at a lot of words.”
“If you just take away all the labels, we are just all human beings that have strengths and weaknesses.”
With 138 photographs glued to the entrance of the Design Museum, the exhibition is unmissable. Old and young, stern and silly—the portraits capture the many faces of dyslexia, thriving in a multitude of careers—from surgeons to chefs to filmmakers. Yet typical of JR’s projects, the black and white quality of the photographs also emphasises a fundamental humanity that we all share. As Kate puts it—“if you just take away all the labels, we are just all human beings that have strengths and weaknesses.”