Giant, quirky street art portraits make celebrities of American immigrants

Walking New York
Walking New York
Image: JR
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A gigantic man inspecting a surveillance camera. Another giant striding across a traffic triangle. Sixteen huge black and white photos of real New York immigrants hailing from countries as varied as Honduras, Japan, Cuba, Azerbaijan, and Vietnam have popped up across New York City in a new project by anonymous French street artist JR, in collaboration with The New York Times.

The larger-than-life portraits are pasted on public walls and sidewalks, as part of JR’s mission to bring the faces of new immigrants to the foreground of city life. Each subject had to have arrived in the United States within the past year. “Everybody is from somewhere,” JR explained to The Times. “And that’s the strength of the city.”

Installed overnight, the series is called Walking New York. The largest piece is a 150-foot image of Elmar, a 20-year-old Azerbaijani man who won the green card lottery last year (his likeness also graces the cover of the latest New York Times Magazine). Elmar’s portrait was pasted to a triangle of pavement in front of Manhattan’s Flatiron building—and scrubbed away by street cleaners that same evening. A stunning sunrise to sunset time-lapse of the installation, with hundreds of unwitting New Yorkers hurrying across it, can be watched here.

For those outside the city, the rest of JR’s portraits can be spotted in New York City-based Instagram and Facebook feeds thanks to the vigilance of pedestrian aesthetes. A selection below: