French artist JR spent much of his adolescence using graffiti to make his mark on Paris. These days, the New York–based artist is using his camera to give voices to people around the world and bring their stories to life. His latest project comes in the form of an urban, digital mural portrait titled The Chronicles of San Francisco, now on display in the Roberts Family Gallery, a free, public space at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

JR and his production team filmed and recorded volunteer subjects in 22 locations throughout San Francisco.
Inspired by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, JR set out to capture the spirit of San Francisco. In January and February of 2018, he and his production team traveled in a mobile studio to 22 locations throughout San Francisco–from Ocean Beach to the Financial District, the Marina to Oceanview, and places scattered in between. They filmed more than 1,200 volunteer subjects in front of a green screen and audio recorded each of them, allowing them to share their story. Each individual’s video is an isolated loop and included in the composite mural, which scrolls on a giant screen in the gallery. The gallery also includes eight kiosks where visitors can select any person in the portrait and hear an audio recording of their story.
The mural will be on display in the Roberts Family Gallery through April 27, 2020.
Among the stars of JR’s mural are California governor Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, Golden State Warriors basketball player Draymond Green, and New Zealand–born marathon open water swimmer Kim Chambers. There are also dancers, street performers, someone dressed up as Frida Kahlo, war veterans, activists, a day-old baby and expectant mothers, immigrants and children of immigrants, twins, homeless people, drag queens, police officers and firefighters, tech gurus, people reminiscent of what the city used to be and others hopeful for San Francisco’s future–and, yes, a unicorn. A number of the city’s landmarks are also included in the mural, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Castro Theatre, and Salesforce Tower.
The videos were filmed in front of a green screen in JR's mobile studio. He instructed people to pose how they wanted to be represented.
“Everyone felt that San Francisco had gone,” JR said at the opening of the mural on May 23. “But the truth is, for us, we saw that energy that is still there, in all the people that you see here. That’s just mirroring San Francisco. There’s nothing extraordinary here. It’s basically a representation of your own city.”
The individuals had free reign to decide what they wanted to talk about during the recording.
JR is the artist behind other major international works, such as Inside Out: The People’s Art Project, a participatory project that shares the experiences of people around the world by photographing them and posting them in public spaces; Face 2 Face, which posted large portraits of Israelis and Palestinians side-by-side on the walls of eight Israeli and Palestinian cities; and Portrait of a Generation, which depicts young people from the neighborhoods where the 2005 French riots took place.

The Chronicles of San Francisco will be on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for approximately one year.

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