French artist shows dignity in ordinary people with massive works of art

'JR' says he posts the huge photos on public structures so people can look at them and see themselves

An artist known for his huge photographs pasted on public structures throughout the world says he is trying to display the dignity in human beings. The artist, who goes by the name "JR," blows up photos of ordinary people, some of them victims of extraordinary circumstances, such as war or crime, so people can look at them and see themselves. Anderson Cooper interviews JR and examines his work on the next edition of 60 Minutes, Sunday, Feb. 25 at 7:00 p.m., ET/PT.

Among the examples of his art from early in his career was a campaign to humanize youths in a Paris suburb. Images from riots there in 2005 showed young rioters destroying property. JR photographed young people from the neighborhood with tight framing, many with hoods on their heads, some making faces. He blew them up and pasted them in Paris with the subjects' names, ages and addresses. 

JR said he was trying to break a stereotype, not feed it with the images. "By feeding it, it breaks [the stereotype]…the humanity. When you look at those faces," he tells Cooper, "it makes you want to smile. By playing the monster, they don't look like a monster anymore."

More recently, amid the hot-button issues of immigration and border security in America, JR erected a giant billboard on the Mexican side of the U.S. border, high enough to be seen on the U.S. side over a high fence. The image was that of a smiling Mexican toddler. 

In 2007, at the wall separating Israelis and Palestinians, he pasted pictures on the wall of everyday people from both sides but with the same profession. JR says bystanders approached him, curious as to who the people were. "I say, 'one is Israeli and one is Palestinian.' And …a big silence on the crowd. And I say, 'Who is who?' And they couldn't even recognize their enemy or their brother."