Larger than life portrait project took inspiration, planning (slide show)
It's an idea that came all the way from France.
The photos on the south side of Austin High School — 80 students and 12 staff from throughout the district — were inspired by a French artist named JR, a semi-anonymous street artist who last year pasted massive portraits of women on walls in the Middle East.
His point was to use photos to show the importance of women in villages.
Someone in Austin was watching: Lisa Beschnett, a visual arts teacher at AHS. She contacted a few former students, artists in their own right.
David Albino, a 2008 AHS grad, is now a professional photographer with his own studio. JR's use of photos spoke to him, as did JR's goal for others.
"He won the TED award, and winners get a wish," Albino said. "His was for people around the world to use art images to basically turn the world inside out."
While JR chose to feature women, Albino and Beschnett were inspired by the importance of public education. Inside & Out, the local project, was born.
"We wanted to make a visual statement about what we pull together to do," Beschnett said of educators.
Included in the photo montage now on the building are "a principal, teachers, paras, a media specialist; it's not just about teachers, but about the whole system," she said.
"We decided to make a massive image on the end of the school of students being held up, empowered, by the teachers below," Albino said. "We first thought about the diverse culture in Austin, then thought, 'We wouldn't even have this culture without the educational system.' We started right at the roots, and we wanted to work our way up."
The project — which is completely privately funded — took some selling.
Beschnett found support from Brad Bergstrom, AHS principal.
"Before we even presented it to administrators, we created a plan," Albino said. "We had it drawn out, this is exactly what we're going to do. We did tests; we wanted to know that the building wasn't going to get ruined. And before we even finished, we had massive support."
The five coordinators of the project worked with the principals of all the public schools in the district, he said.
The students pictured were chosen in a "purely demographical and random" way, Albino said. "We hit all the grades, all the public schools, and sent waivers out for the parents' permission."
He and his business partner, Mariah Paaverud, shot all of the photos in one day.
Though she describes their efforts as "a crazy study in perseverance," Beschnett said the feedback has been positive.
"They all want their photo back" when it's over, she said. It's understandable — not many people can say that a 3-foot by 5-foot photo of them hung on the outside of their school.
In order to raise money to maintain the project, prints may be made available of any of the portraits now on the wall.
Neither Beschnett nor Albino could guess how long the photos will stay up. It's just one of the unknowns, they said.
"It's truly inside-out," he said. "The life is on the outside, rather than contained in this brick building. It's right out there and you're looking at it and it's beautiful."