French photographer JR has turned his lens on the graffiti artists of Paris, the women of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas and the senior citizens of Havana, often plastering his supersize prints on the sides of buildings and outdoor staircases. No stranger to controversy, he once placed portraits of Israeli and Palestinian citizens side by side on the wall separating the territories along the Gaza Strip.
Now, the 36-year-old artist, born Jean René in Paris, to Eastern European and Tunisian immigrant parents, has aimed his camera at New Yorkers.
On view at the Brooklyn Museum is the largest North American retrospective of his work. And its centerpiece is “The Chronicles of New York City,” a two-story mural with snaps of more than 1,000 locals.
The photographer spent a month in the summer of 2018 steering a 53-foot trailer — housing an on-the-go studio with a green screen — through the five boroughs, stopping often to capture pedestrians. The resulting composite, on display for the first time, puts everyday New Yorkers side by side with the celebrities among them, including Robert De Niro, Eric Ripert, Harry Belafonte, Darren Aronofsky, Art Spiegelman and Jon Batiste.
“When you live in a city that long, you have your own routine,” says JR, who’s called New York home for the last nine years. “When do you have a chance to go to neighborhoods all over the five boroughs and spend the day tapping on people’s shoulders to ask them who they are [and] listen to them for hours? That’s the best way I found to really discover a city.”
He says he met “99 percent” of his subjects in the streets. De Niro, Belafonte and other luminaries responded to his invitation to photograph them, and have their images “blended in the middle of everyone else,” the photographer tells The Post. “This is a group of photos and not a group photo. No one is more important than another.”
In the columned room that holds “Chronicles of New York City” are iPads with headphones that let you listen to the stories of people in the mural. There’s even a photo booth for visitors who want to add their own portraits to the mix.
Sabrina Alphonso came the other day to see herself in JR’s mural. The 36-year-old Flatbush resident was photographed in Bed-Stuy, where she works as a designer of jewelry with healing crystals.
“You see so many people, but you don’t know the types of struggle people go through,” says Alphonso, who admits that she was brought to tears listening to some of her fellow subjects’ stories, especially one from a West Indian woman who described the death of her mother in childbirth. “It was absolutely amazing to be a part of it. Even though we are from all walks of life, [JR] wants us to all feel like we come from the same city.”
“JR: Chronicles” at the Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Pkwy; 718-638–5000