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Spotlight Article

Behind the Making of Our Walking New York Cover

April 27, 2015


What you see on the cover of this week’s New York Times Magazine is real. The image is by the French artist JR, who is known for pasting giant photographs on urban surfaces all over the world. About six weeks ago, we met with JR to discuss a project for our Walking New York issue. Lately, JR’s work has been preoccupied with the theme of immigration. An installation at Ellis Island features large archival photographs of immigrants displayed throughout the island’s abandoned hospital.

For this project, we decided we’d photograph recent immigrants and paste their images on the city’s streets, where they and other immigrants are often invisible. The pasting would be made in the heart of Manhattan, on Flatiron plaza, the triangle of pavement between Fifth Avenue, Broadway and East 23rd Street.

Earlier this month, JR photographed 16 people who arrived in New York within the last year and made their portraits while they walked down the streets of NoLIta. (Some of these portraits can been seen here.) For the cover, we zeroed in on Elmar Aliyev, a 20-year-old waiter at Old Baku, an Azerbaijani restaurant on Ditmas Avenue in Brooklyn. Elmar immigrated to the United States from Azerbaijan last August after he won the green-card lottery. He likes to walk in Central Park and around the Plaza, locations from his favorite movie, “Home Alone 2.” JR liked the way Aliyev swung his arms when he walked.

Aliyev’s picture was then printed on 62 strips of paper. On April 11, JR and his 20-person crew took these strips to Flatiron plaza and began affixing them to the ground at 4 a.m. The pasting took about three and a half hours and resulted in a 150-foot-tall image of Aliyev striding eastward. The sun came up. Pedestrians began to wander over Aliyev. Just as JR had predicted, they often walked right over him without even noticing.

To make out the image, you had to be high above. In the middle of the day, when the angles of shadow were favorable, JR went up in a helicopter and photographed the pasting, with all the cheerful and untidy street life of an early spring day in New York City happening on and around it.

That image is the one you see on the cover of the magazine — a gloriously massive portrait of one of the city’s 3.1 million immigrants, unseen by many of the people passing him on the street.

The sun went down. At 7:45 p.m., a water truck arrived to power-wash the sheets of paper off the plaza. By 9:30 p.m., Aliyev’s image was gone.

You can see a time-lapse video of this entire process above.

The Cover Stars French artist JR pasted an enormous photograph onto the Flatiron plaza in the making of the magazine’s cover image.

Update: April 24, 11 a.m.

But wait. There’s more. Last night, JR’s oversize images of recent immigrants were pasted on surfaces throughout the five boroughs of New York. We encourage you to find them.

We will post the precise locations of the pastings later today, but if you can find one in the meantime, take a photo and hashtag it #WalkingNewYork. Happy hunting!

Update: April 24, 3 p.m.

Here is a list and a map of the locations of JR’s pastings.

1. Tamar Zhvania: Thompson Street between Spring and Broome Streets, Manhattan

2. Lisa Cargana Barrios Blanco: Little West 12th Street at Washington Street, Manhattan

3. Jonathan Saint-Jean: West 18th Street at 10th Avenue, Manhattan

4. Thinh Hoang: West 23rd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, Manhattan

5. Tatiana Fursenko: Main and Water Streets, Dumbo, Brooklyn

6. Ping Ping Lin: North 10th Street between Wythe and Berry Streets, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

7. Maksim Khimchanka: Broadway between Hooper and Keap Streets, South Williamsburg, Brooklyn

8. Mariela Goicochea: Parkside Avenue at Flatbush Avenue, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn

9. Aboubacar Sidiki Cisse: Pioneer Street at Imlay Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn

10. Mitsuhiro Kawano: Coffey Street at Conover Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn

11. Marian Fadel: 43rd Street at Greenpoint Avenue, Sunnyside, Queens

12. Julio César Fernández Carbot: 43rd Street at Greenpoint Avenue, Sunnyside, Queens

13. Kamola Akilova: Grand Concourse, between East 165th and East 166th Streets, Bronx

14. Elibenia Polanco: Richmond Terrace between Franklin and York Avenues, Staten Island

Link to the video and full article:

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