His “name” may be more associated with a famous soap-opera villain of long ago, but the mysterious street artist who goes by the initials JR has already become a legend in photography circles. I first ran across his work in a stunning mural he produced in conjunction with the New York City Ballet last year, and more recently many others were exposed to his imagination via the incredible piece, shown above, that appeared on the cover of the New York Times Magazine in April, for a theme issue titled “Walking New York.” A massive image of an Azerbaijan immigrant named Elmar, pasted on the Flatiron Plaza in New York City, and made up of 62 supersized strips of paper and more than 16o feet long, it was photographed from above by JR (talk about meta!) via a helicopter, so the awe-inspiring expanse of the project could be appreciated.
Barely out his twenties, and determinedly anonymous, JR has already been called “the Cartier-Bresson of the 21st Century”; the photographer himself calls the world of the street “the largest art gallery in the world,” and his work is now celebrated in a recently published retrospective which asks the question, JR: Can Art Change the World? Much as in the case of his visionary (and equally enigmatic) contemporary Banksy, the short answer is most definitely “yes.”