BY Matt Williams
Wednesday afternoon brought a number of highly anticipated seminars at Cannes. Not only was the festival treated to an appearance by music maestro Mark Ronson, there was also visits from the big cheeses at Nike – one of the most awarded companies of all time at Cannes – and Twitter.
While these talks naturally brought in the biggest crowds – Dick Costolo, Twitter’s chief executive, in particular fronting up to packed audience – it was in the end a lower profile seminar that really stole the show.
Of course, such is the allure of Cannes that no speaker comes into the event truly under the radar, but few in the audience would have predicted the impact that Street Artist JR made when he was introduced as part of DraftFCB’s lecture on the relationship between advertising and art.
JR’s rise to stardom has certainly been less than conventional. He first took up photography at the age of 12, after finding a camera on the train, and spent his teenage years shooting portraits of his friends and neighbours in the Paris ghettos.
The images were immensely powerful, a fact he put down to having the trust of his subjects – “something you absolutely need if you really want to be creative.”
Things really changed for JR during the Paris riots of 2005. During the ugly scenes, a car was set on fire right in front of one of his images, resulting in his work being broadcast all around the world.
It was at this time that JR realised the incredible impact that his Street Art could have on society. His images could provide the platform that shows people’s true personalities, not the characteristics that the media just like to portray.
And his ambition, relentless drive and complete lack of fear meant that he’d stop at nothing to ensure that his creativity would continue to push boundaries.
This dream took JR around the world, shooting intimate photographs of people that made powerful statements on society.
One such trip saw him head to the West Bank, where he managed to convince citizens with similar occupations from either side of the separation wall to pose for him. Those images were placed next to each other on buildings, making a bold statement about the human elements that unite people despite the conflicts taking place in the background. If even locals couldn’t tell which subject was from Israel and which was from Palestine, then why do they still insist on forming these divides between each other?
JR still continues this quest to unite communities through creativity with ever bigger and more ambitious projects, a great summary of which can be seen in this video:
Yet he has also seen the communities themselves take on and adapt his ideas. Communities are pasting their own images on to buildings in order to make their own statements, such as this drive in Tunisia where people replaced billboard images of President Ben Ali with pictures of themselves.
This could only have occurred thanks to the creative values that JR drives forward. In an industry where client pressures means its more tempting than ever for creatives to make compromises and settle for what’s easiest rather than what’s best, here is someone who proves that you simply do not have to take that approach.
Here is someone who thrives on the fact that the freedom of being an artist means you can sometimes be allowed to fail. Here is someone who sees a challenge as a creative opportunity rather than a problem that needs to be solved. And here is someone who believes that if you really want to do something that makes a difference, then you need to be prepared to make the first move, take a few risks, and question everything.