French street artist JR launches global project

French street artist JR invited people from around the world Thursday to tell their stories in giant self-portraits plastered on any open surfaces.

The Inside Out Project was launched at a Southern California art gallery during the TED Conference, where the Digital Age art endeavor sprang to life as a "wish" granted by members of the prestigious group.

Anyone with Internet access can take pictures of faces with "strong" expressions and upload them to the website insideoutproject.net.

JR and his crew will convert the images into large black-and-white posters and send real world copies back to people, who are supposed to plaster them somewhere for all to see.

"The rest is about action," JR said as people queued at a photo booth in the art gallery to make self-portraits printed out as posters. "It is about taking the virtual world back to the streets."

JR is known for using bleak streets in cities across the globe as frames for poignant portraits of people who live there.

He won a $100,000 TED Prize and was granted a wish - the Inside Out Project.

Organizers of TED, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to cultivating ideas and innovation through its prestigious conferences, described the Paris artist as a "true humanitarian" whose art inspires people to look at the world differently.

"It is about making invisible people visible," JR said.

"Trust me; the power of image in a world of image is really strong... All I am doing is giving the medium to everyone."

The artist doesn't reveal his full face, name or the intended meaning of his poster-sized images. He wore his trademark fedora and sunglasses at the TED conference.

JR was eager to see where his unprecedented art project leads.

"It's the Internet - it is going everywhere," he said.

"You don't know where it is going to go or who is going to pick it up... I know I am going to be surprised."

JR envisioned using some of the uploaded pictures in future projects.

"I'm asking people to stand behind their ideas," said the man who describes himself as a "photograffeur."

"It takes more than saying 'I Like It' on Facebook."

With people's images involved, JR was confident participants would be discerning when choosing where to post them.

He brushed aside any risk involved, saying he has only been arrested a few times and paid little in fines in his years as a guerrilla street artist.

"If you are going to paste it in the streets, then choose a good wall," JR advised. "If you choose the wrong one, get ready to run."

JR has mounted his enormous black-and-white photos on buildings in slums around Paris, on walls in the Middle East, on dilapidated bridges in Africa and on homes in Brazilian shanty towns.

He put images of a rabbi, an imam and a priest on walls in Israel and the Palestinian territories. His "Women Are Heroes" display turned a Kenyan town into a gallery of local faces.

Each year, TED grants a prizes to someone with a track record of doing good works and having visions of changing the world for the better.

TED is known for its mix of brilliant, accomplished people and annual conferences that attract members ranging from celebrities and politicians to Nobel Prize winners and founders of Internet titans such as Google and Amazon.

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