It was shortly after noon. A pleasantly sunny day, if not as warm as the last day of April should be in New York City.

Times Square was in bloom: the Naked Cowboy, tighty whities coy behind his guitar, strummed in front of the Recruiting Office’s giant neon stars-and-stripes. Cops on horseback stood in file before Aeropostal, guarding a half-dressed model on the big monitor. Elmo hurled epithets at a tourist. Smurfette took a call on her cell. Two identical Woody-the-Cowboys competed for tips, as a Coke bottle competed with anthropomorphic M&Ms above them for facetime on block-long screens.

It was the ultimate commercial takeover of the heart of the city; the domination of Blade Runner via Disney fever dream.

The line to the polka-dotted van stretched back to the red stairs near the half-price ticket booth. “I’m gonna take mine home,” the young man in front of me said. “Why not? I’m only here because of her.” He nodded at his girlfriend.

She grinned. “I’m not taking mine anywhere. I want to see it there.” She pointed at the plaza beyond the van, where two guys with buckets and brushes stepped over a checkerboard of faces.

I, too, looked forward to seeing my face walked on in Times Square—or, rather, a three-by-five-foot black-and-white poster of my face, one of hundreds pasted to the pavement as part of the InsideOut Project.


I started on my path to this line a few weeks before, when I watched a documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival titled Inside Out: The People’s Art Project. It introduced me to the work of JR, a wiry, bearded 30-year-old street artist from France, whose trademark look features Wayfarers and a hat that might belong to your grandfather.

In 2011, JR won a TED prize, which gave him funding and a mandate to “Change the world.”

JR had already begun changing various sectors of the world by mounting massive outdoor art exhibits. At 15, he claimed the rooftops of his native Paris with his graffiti. He later found a camera in the Metro, and took black and white photos of some of his fellow “outlaws.” He was 21 when he enlarged and pasted these on the city’s walls, humanizing some of the faces behind Paris’s notorious 2005 riots.

His illegal face-pasting blossomed into a worldwide guerrilla movement. He and his volunteers plastered massive portraits of Jews and Palestinians next to each other on both sides of the wall that separated them. They collaborated to post the work of local artists in Berlin and Cuba. They celebrated women by pasting pictures of their faces, or enormous posters of their eyes, in countries where woman were decidedly uncelebrated.

And then came the call from TED.

You can watch the resulting TED talk at As summarized in the documentary, JR answered the call to “Change the World” with a challenge of his own: “I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project, and together, we’ll turn the world…Inside Out.”

Since TED, JR’s Project has included Haiti, Brazil, Tunisia—where the Arab Spring fostered such vigorous “free dialogue” over portrait placement that the volunteers feared for their safety—Rome, Thailand, Guyana, even Juarez, Mexico. The team has photographed and pasted in locales all over the US, including Oakland, CA; a North Dakota Indian reservation; Red Hook, Brooklyn, and the South Bronx.

And now…Times Square.


Our line moved forward, and I chatted with visitors from France, an Upper East Side matron, a guy from Queens, a Japanese tourist. And, of course, the young couple ahead, who lived in the Bronx.

My turn came. I signed disclaimers on an iPad, and a volunteer led me to the back of the polka-dotted van. Inside was a tiny photo booth, where I took a stool opposite a camera imbedded in the wall. The volunteer tapped the mirror; I had six seconds to pull an appropriate face. I recoiled dramatically from the feet destined to troop across my likeness, and the shutter snapped.

I stepped out. My portrait printed and rolled from a slot in the side of the van. The volunteer handed it to me and used my phone to take my picture with it. She rolled it up and told me that the team had a backlog of pictures because it had rained yesterday and they couldn’t paste (When it rains, they remove the old posters from the pavement because they become dangerously slippery). So they’d be pasting yesterday’s posters this afternoon, and ours later this evening or tomorrow morning.

“How long do the posters stay down?” I asked.

“They’re temporary by design,” she said. “But mine stayed put for five days—the weather was dry. Come back tomorrow; we’ll have you pasted by then.”


I was disappointed that, unlike the subjects in JR’s movie, I wouldn’t be doing my own pasting. I was even more disappointed that I’d have to wait until tomorrow to see my poster on the ground.

Sure, it was temporary, and nobody would recognize me anyway, and my likeness was far from gorgeous. But still…


What’s with the ego? I asked myself. There is no inherent “meaning” in the Times Square project. It doesn’t highlight the resilience of the Haitians, or celebrate victimized women, or reveal the faces of persecuted LGTB Russians, or remind Equadorians that they have Indian minorities.

Times Square is just…faces.

My picture would be pasted down among hundreds, maybe thousands, then washed away by rain or worn away by feet, or scraped up by JR’s volunteers to avoid injury lawsuits. What was the big deal if I couldn’t paste it down myself? And why did it matter that I wouldn’t see it on the sidewalk the day it was taken?

I was lucky, really: This was Tuesday; we were leaving Thursday for Maine to see Paul’s mom, and I’d have a day to take a picture of myself in the square. I could show it to her; Ev would enjoy that. I could post it on Facebook and Twitter.


I returned Wednesday afternoon, my phone set to Camera.

My picture wasn’t there.

People who’d just had their pictures taken were handing their posters to the pasting guys. A few of the subjects seemed to be helping with the glue and brushes.

I asked one of the volunteers where yesterday’s pictures were.

She shrugged. “We’re alternating some of them with the new ones.”

I looked for the older posters. I didn’t see a pile, a box, even a rolled poster—just people handing over their new likenesses, which went straight to the cement.

Mine would get pasted while I was gone, and I’d miss it. I would have no photo for Ev, or Facebook or Twitter.

I suppressed the urge to beg the volunteer to find my poster.

Patience, I told myself. It was probably waiting its turn in the polka-dotted truck.

Or maybe, an evil voice whispered in my brain, it’s in the trash.


We left for Maine the next day. We returned on Monday. It hadn’t rained in New York; perhaps my poster had survived the weekend. I took the Q train Tuesday morning to Times Square.

I passed Woody and Woody. I dodged Elmo, edged around two well-endowed, guitar-toting women in skimpy undies—Naked Cowgirls??—and slipped through knots of tourists posing with a bored Smurfette.

The polka-dotted van was busy. The pavement in front of the red stairs was covered with faces, some tattered and some brand-new. A tall, wide building behind the half-price ticket booth was pasted from top to bottom with posters.

I walked every inch of the plaza. I was not there.

I examined the building. I was not there.

Was my face walked on by tourists last weekend? Was it was hidden beneath a new poster? Was it pasted at all?

If a face lies on the pavement in Times Square and nobody recognizes it, does it make a difference?

I stood back and surveyed the square.

It looked…stunning. Dizzying.


Here was the ultimate human takeover of the heart of the city; a glorious domination of faces, faces, faces.

My heart swelled.

I didn’t recognize a single one. But I had represented; I had been a tiny part of this in some impermanent way.

That, I realized, was a very cool thing.