Notes on Design
PARIS, April 7—I try to see how an image can be available to anybody. I don’t affiliate with any brand or company or government; my work is financed by the sales of original artworks. So whenever I have the opportunity to make my images available online and in social media or in magazines, I take it. When I saw Zoetrope: All-Story, I said, OK, maybe I can make an edition that’s cool and that people can turn into posters and keep the images. It’s a way to have a magazine not just be on a shelf but live on a wall.
When you open the magazine, you’ll see different sections of an image. The design is actually similar to how I paste my black-and-white images in my projects: within each image, there are sections, smaller images, which come together to create a larger image. So the reader can take the different sheets of paper and combine them, like a puzzle, to make a big image and hang it on a wall.
Nine years ago, we started a project called Inside Out, where literally anyone can send us their portraits and portraits of their community, and my team will print them for free and send them to where the people are, so they can express themselves and share whatever they want to share. We’ve put more than 420,000 posters in more than 140 countries so far. And it continues. Sometimes people print portraits in our style, without us, and mention our project, because the project is a safe place for communities—it becomes their project, and that’s really important. For example, in Pakistan, when a family wanted to highlight the fact that military drones were shooting at populations and a little girl had lost her parents, they made a portrait of the little girl and used our backdrop, and it ended up on the cover of the New York Times. I had nothing to do with it, it’s the people’s project. It shows you how far an idea can spread.
When I work, I usually start with a place—a place where I’m questioning what’s happening, or a place I’d love to visit. Then I scout with one or two members of my team. Sometimes it takes one day and sometimes it takes two years, but whenever it evolves to an idea, the whole team works to technically make it possible. The idea itself is the easiest part. It’s the how that’s our biggest focus. Do we do it legally, illegally; where; when; how do we finance it—all those kinds of questions.
And I’m always into the action. Right now, I’m coming back from delivering food to homeless people in Paris. During the day we cook, and at night we deliver. We started last week at 100 meals a day, and this week we’re at 1,000 meals a day. We want to do 5,000 meals a day, and online we’re showing how to do the same, and people in other places are doing it now, too. I applied my whole team into connecting with restaurants, designing meals, delivering. Of course, we’re all in a different situation now with the coronavirus, and so this is a different project, but for me, it’s still about the action: let’s just turn to it right away and see how we can be efficient.
In my projects, I’m interested in different contexts, different zones, different places. How do you stay active and immediate, how do you respond to a question, to a population? So, in many ways, this moment doesn’t feel different from others, though the situation is unique. Even in a global world, we still experience trauma at a national scale. Italy was already living the emergency of this pandemic, and in France we saw that and thought, well, it’s their problem, and then boom—the exact same thing happened here, in the exact same way. And then in the US, everywhere.
So, here in Paris, we said, hey guys, let’s call everyone we know and see how to be active by tomorrow. And we did it. Every day, we face a new challenge, but my team is always focused on the logistics, the how-tos. So we’re turning all that into: how do we deliver food to people? It’s just another project. A different project.