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February 12, 2009
The hip, young French photographer, JR, likes to make his photographs larger than life and visible from afar. His most recent project in the slums of Kenya are designed to be visible from Google Earth satellites as well as from the elevated train tracks that pass by the village twice a day. The intention is to draw attention to the persistent strength of women in these struggling, poverty-stricken areas.
2000 square meters of rusty corrugated metal rooftops are now covered with photos of the eyes and faces of the women of Kibera, which is one of the largest slums of Africa. Most of the women have their own photos on their own rooftop, and the material used is water resistant so that the photo itself will protect the fragile houses in the heavy rain season.
The train that passes on the line through Kibera at least twice a day is covered with eyes from the women that live below it. With the eyes on the train, the bottom half of the their faces are pasted on corrugated sheets on the slope that leads down from the tracks to the rooftops. The idea being that for the split second the train passes, their eyes will match their smiles and their faces will be complete.
JR is what I would call a 21st century concerned photographer. He wants to call attention to important social problems, and he uses unusual materials and extravagant means to get his message out into the world. He has completed other audacious projects with people in Brazil, India, Cambodia, and other parts of Africa. And he's pasted smiling portraits of Palestinians and Israelis on both sides of the wall that divides them — showing how similar and human those on the other side look in reality.