What do you get when you pair an 89-year old director with a 33-year-old French photographer and muralist?
We all see the world through different lenses that are tinged by our unique experiences and worldviews. But what we see in a single moment is often forgotten seconds later as it’s replaced by a new story, a new face, a new place. Director Agnés Varda and photographer JR recognized this problem and set out to change it.
Faces Places follows Agnés and JR as they explore the cities and villages of France in order to capture and preserve the faces and places they stumble upon. Along the way they listen to stories of farmers, miners, waitresses, and villagers and celebrate their lives by plastering giant portraits of them on walls and buildings—freezing their stories in time, even if for just a few days.
With both Agnés and JR hailing from backgrounds in vibrant storytelling, it’s no surprise to see them rising to the challenge of capturing these ordinary yet extraordinary stories. JR, a french photographer and filmmaker, received a TED prize for his Inside Out project which gave people the chance to paste a giant black and white image of themselves onto public walls or buildings in order to share a small part of their story with the world. Agnés, a critically acclaimed director and writer who spent most of her time filming and writing in France, is well known for her films Vagabond, Le Bonheur, and The Beaches of Agnès and heralding the French New Wave movement.
And for Agnés, the journey with JR is intimately personal. She’s losing her sight and every day the world becomes a little more blurry. Before her sight is completely gone, her one wish is to see as many new faces and places as possible. After meeting JR, she convinces him to take her across the country in his photo van to capture images and stories of the common, ordinary people throughout France that are often unseen or forgotten. But even in their joint venture, they see different things.
Agnés sees a blurry world because of her eyesight loss, and JR sees a dark world from behind the sunglasses that never leave his face. Even in composing their photographs, they each focus on different features of their subjects and debate on how to appropriately highlight the subject. But as the two travel through France, their friendship blossoms. It’s an unlikely one from the beginning but as the two spend time together, they become not only colleagues in storytelling but also companions in life.
Halfway through their journey, they take a break for Agnés to have another eye surgery. JR stays by her side and helps her process through the operation afterward. Despite her blurry view of life, she still lives with great joy—an outlook that JR can’t always reconcile with. Yet even in their differences, they are still both able to see and celebrate the same faces and places of their shared country.
This unlikely friendship of Agnés and JR is just as heartwarming as the journey they embark on and the stories they encounter. It’s a reminder that our world is made up of an endless array of faces and places, and if we aren’t careful to take notice of them before they change and vanish, we’ll forget them. Faces Places reminds us just how important it is to preserve the life around us so that the precious stories of our time don’t vanish.
— Angelina Burkholder