Wrapped around the Boys & Girls Club building on north Main Avenue is an unusual outdoor photographic exhibit. Large-format portraits of almost 100 Durango residents have been billboard-pasted to the building, and next week, a few more will be on display in storefronts downtown.
The global Inside Out Project has come here thanks to the volunteer organization known as New Face Productions. Part of a worldwide photographic project by a TED Prize winner, IOP is a visual companion to “The New Colossus,” a dramatic performance piece appearing at the Community Concert Hall on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“In this day and age, there are so many reasons to be divided,” said curator Julia Klema. “It’s important to come together and be who we simply are.”
Last summer, Klema, a local artist and educator, was approached by New Face leadership to lead the local photographic enterprise.
“I researched JR, the French street artist who started the project. He created a platform for other communities to be part of his work in the world. He provides the tools, and the process is the same for all participants,” she said. “The photographs are digital, closeup portraits in black-and-white, which are uploaded, printed in large format and displayed for the community to see.”
Klema and her team put out a call for participants who were interviewed about their life in Durango before portraits were taken. A neutral background is the only thing that’s the same in each photograph. Conversations took place during the photo shoots, Klema said, resulting in a variety of poses and reactions. The age range is wide, and while no names are attached to the portraits, visitors will discover many friends and acquaintances.
The underlying purpose aligns with JR’s view that art can change the world. In his 2011 TED Prize presentation, he’s more specific: Art can change people’s perceptions and thereby change the world. JR and his team travel the world to cities and rural areas and simply take pictures of people then paste them billboard-style on walls, bridges, towers and even rooftops. Counting on human curiosity, JR has managed to attract ordinary people to participate and whole communities to share each other’s humanity. Everywhere the Inside Out Project goes, it seems to establish an unusual sense of common ground.
“It made me so happy,” Klema said of the Durango project. After photographs and the stories of local residents were collected, it took her three days to make the final selections.
“The people had clearly enjoyed themselves and their life in Durango,” she said. “As long as weather cooperates, the portraits will be on view. We hope through March. And then we have portraits on display in two storefronts on Main Avenue for longer.”
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.