By Jef Dinsmore on May 22, 2013 to Documentaries


Overview: Known for billboard-sized photographic portraits of everyday people in urban settings, French street artist JR has a simple call to action: “Tell me what you stand for, and together we’ll turn the world inside out.” To transform his idea into reality, he created the Inside Out Project, the world’s largest participatory art project and a remarkable testament to the power of the image and the role art can play in transforming lives.

InsideOut_JRJR, who himself remains anonymous, (his full name is unknown and he always wears sunglasses and a fedora in public and on camera) asks people to take photo portraits and send them to him. He then prints giant versions of the images for free and sends them back. “It’s up to them to paste it up in a place with meaning,” he notes. These exhibitions are documented, archived and viewable virtually at

Expectations: This is one of those documentaries where I don’t want to know everything going in. I’ve familiarized myself with the Inside Out Project, but, I’ve done so without going to the website; I also have read a Press Release and that is it. I have chosen to ignore the trailer for the film and have, in fact, avoided all imagery that is associated. I haven’t even looked up any images for this article yet.

Why? I’m waiting as to make this documentary more meaningful. I want to be impacted by the project and the art itself and to do that I want to experience it with fresh eyes. Why am I hoping for a more visceral experience from this film? It is because I need a dose of uplifting & positive energy by a world joined by art as opposed the mad & burning world VICE shows us. I hope this documentary can at least do that.

The second reason for ignoring the actual artwork before watching is because of the potential power of Art itself. One of the most emotive and thought-provoking documentaries I have reviewed for HBOWatch was MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT. It was about her and her performance art career and her latest performance piece. Go to the review here and see how I felt about it.  Now, I’m hoping, maybe foolishly, that this different presentation of art will grip or surprise me like that documentary did in 2012. Supposedly, the artist known as JR and this world-wide project is transforming lives and I’m out to see what it does for me.

To accomplish that goal I need to gaze upon and feel the artistic expression JR has inspired. I need to watch INSIDE OUT: THE PEOPLE’S ART PROJECT.  InsideOut_painting

Gut Reaction: This documentary certainly takes a dramatic tone in its presentation. The first eight minutes or so, with stirring soundtrack intact, shows you the charismatic artist, known as JR, as he wins an award and hatches his art concept upon the world.

It is a bold piece just like JR. Also, it is so huge I am not really sure it is even about the art. No, I’m sure it is not about the art but of the global process of empowering people. That is the real message here. Think about it, JR could substitute the picture portraits with something else and get the same effect. Once an interested person sends him their address he could mail them a seedling or sapling and ask them to plant it in a place of meaning to help transform the world. Or he could send you a book which is to be read in a place of meaning to people less fortunate in order to help transform the world. The nurturing of a plant or the nurturing of a mind could get the same result.

NO, it couldn’t! After a few more minutes into the film I realized, at least in one respect, that I was wrong. Oh, those other ideas could have worked out just fine but there is something about these people, no matter where they are from on this planet, getting their picture taken and posted. They were immensely proud of seeing their likenesses mounted on a wall.

The result is that the Art Project works. It empowers people; gives them a stronger larger than life identity to those who pass by. I still think it is not all about the art though. To explain that line of thought better we need to look at the art itself.

Some people would often present poses, gestures and silly looks for posterity. We saw it a number of times when someone was given the camera. The posers InsideOut_picturewould come to life for it. But, were those captured images really showing the souls of these people or we’re they acting? One girl in Haiti was crying and rubbing saddened eyes until she stopped posing and burst out with laughter and a smile. Was she sending a false image of herself? Isn’t the point of the portrait to capture the true you? Well, I say it doesn’t really matter what the composition of the portrait looks like; it doesn’t matter if the subject puts on a happy, sad or mad face. What matters is the depiction of a human face – stating simply “here I am world; I am somebody.”

The beauty of art, however, is that the viewer can extract any sense of meaning from it they wish.  A subject is not really conveying the message they want but allowing the viewer to get out of the image what they need. And you can go round and round on the debate. What do you take away from the images? What do you think of the project?


In Conclusion: If this were an Art blog I might go deeper into the topic, by the way, that quote was also stated in the Abramovic post I cited earlier. I will simply say in closing that the Inside Out Art Project works and kudos to JR for its existence…and to the people who participate. The documentary INSIDE OUT: THE PEOPLE”S ART PROJECT, which is what I am really supposed to be reviewing here, also works. I hope you take it in and help transform the world.

Other Air Dates: HBO – 05.23 at 2:15pm, 05.25 at 11:15am ET, 4:15pm PT and 05.29 at 5:30pm & 12:15am, 06.02 at 1:00pm and 06.05  at 5:10 am.




  • I’d like to see this, for sure. I also really enjoyed the Marina Abramovic documentary, I found it surprisingly thought provoking and I was well and truly fascinated by the artist. I hope to be drawn into this documentary in a similar way. Although I know this is a very different kind of artist, producing very different work, I think it has the potential to be just as fascinating.

    • Jef Dinsmore

      I think I liked her doc more. Both are charismatic artists with different approaches. JR is anonymous and gives the artistic power to the people; Marina exposes her soul & her self and can share her artistic power with just a glance into someone elses eyes. Both are films to be seen.

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