Agnes Varda film maker and JR the French photographer and installation artist make an unlikely couple. One is an 89 woman who originally made her name as a filmmaker during the French New Wave, the other a 34-year-old photographer/installation-maker with a well-established name in both the world of street art and the more conventional art circuit.
But in the film Visages Villages or Faces Places if you prefer the English title, a couple they certainly are, travelling around the French countryside in their van that is dressed up to look like a giant camera. They visit a variety of places discussing, bickering and interviewing before getting down to the business of creating and installing a series of artworks using JR’s preferred installation method of pasting often huge scale photographs on exterior walls, sea-containers, trains and even a disused and crumbling relic from the second world war.
The film presents a fascinating insight into the working process. JR largely takes the lead, but the constant input from Varda deflects and contributes to the creative development. She brings the perspective of a long life, creative insight and a certain historical perspective that clearly fits well with the younger artist’s own interests.
The passage through the film builds a heart-warming picture of what seems to start with as a rather unlikely friendship. There is a certain about of teasing that goes on between the two, but also a tremendous amount of respect and warmth as they discuss their work, their lives and their differences.
Technically the film is a documentary and has seen as that when it has won various film festival awards. But it is also very much a road movie as we travel along with the leading characters on their journey of discovery.
As an educator I think that there is a good chance that I will be showing my older pupils this film in the future. It gives a revealing view into the artistic process. My pupils are interested in street art and the way it intervenes into the world around us. Perhaps slightly unusually for this sort of public space work though, these are images that often provide us with a subject, an ordinary person, to look at and think about. JR and Varda often choose the humdrum, the ordinary person and the elevate them to often quite huge scales. Yes, I feel sure that this film and JR’s other work can be an interesting route to explore with my pupils.
There is also no doubt at all that I see possible practical assignments that may be possible to challenge my pupils with. Certainly, photographic installations that we could make virtually on the computer, but who knows, maybe a few real installations could follow.
Related JR links:
JR street artist
Previous street art related blog posts:
Street art and illegality
Street art in the classroom