You don’t take a photograph—you make it. – Ansel Adams
When I think about the artwork of JR and the way he engages everyday people, the urban landscape, and the way people testify about their memories and local relationships, one of the first things that comes to mind is the simple term from the core of hip hop: represent.
How does one think about the idea of “landscape” in terms of all the variables that define it? Social history? Temporality? The way we perceive the world around us is always dynamic. JR’s recent trip to North Korea provides a fresh look at a modern day society held in check by a political process of paradox, and perhaps shows us in the West how eerily a reality based on shared experiences can be shaped and molded. North Korea is one of the most controlled societies on Earth. JR’s work there shows a rare glimpse of humanity in the face of extreme political control systems. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn once wrote, “Not everything has a name. Some things lead us into a realm beyond words…By means of art we are sometimes sent—dimly, briefly—revelations unattainable by reason.” In JR’s photo essay of Pyongyang’s everyday life, we can see echoes of a world at the edge of modern life. Like the infamous flower named in honor of Kim Jong Il “kimjongilia,” we see a rare yet highly artificial plant that somehow stays alive and claims a space in the ecosystem. Like JR’s work—ranging from portraits in Kenya, Cuba, Paris and many places in between—the photos offer fresh insight into the everyday world of the people he documents.
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