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A collage of 12 student portraits, taken underwater and in black and white.

To highlight UNC’s water theme, life-size portraits of people underwater will be displayed on campus as part of the Inside Out global photography project. (photos by Alexis Fairbanks)

Inside Out: Students bring global water photography project to UNC

TED talks are designed to spread ideas and inspire, usually in the form of short, powerful presentations that are under 18 minutes. And that’s just the effect French photographer JR’s talk had on UNC students Caroline Orr ’16 and Norman Archer ’17. The two have teamed up to bring JR’s Inside Out photography project to UNC.

Inside Out is a global art campaign with a simple founding principle: Pick a theme, take portraits of people involved with the issue and install life-size black-and-white prints of the photographs on streets, walls, rooftops — wherever they can be seen by the public.

“From the suburbs to Paris, to the wall of Israel and Palestine, to the rooftops of Kenya, to the favelas of Rio,” said JR in his 2012 TED talk, “I would like to bring art to improbable places, create projects so huge with the community that they are forced to ask themselves questions.”

Orr, a studio art and art history major, and Archer, an anthropology major, will be using their Inside Out Project as a platform to spread awareness about the universitywide academic theme, “Water in our World,” which ends this spring. The two met in 2013 through A Drink For Tomorrow, a student organization that advocates for global water access.

“The concept of water is so ubiquitous. I really like the idea of using water to connect people with different interests,” said Archer. “Art should be something for everyone to see, not just something you have to pay to go see at a museum. The Inside Out Project is a way to spark real discussion about water.”

Planning for the project began last April.

“Back in the spring, I just sent a cold email on one of those contact forms on the Inside Out website,” said Orr. “The kind of email that you pretty much know you’re not going to get a response, and if you do it’s probably going to be an automated reply a couple weeks later. But Rhea Keller, one of the project coordinators at Inside Out based in New York City, replied almost immediately.”

Keller, a 2011 UNC alumna and art history major, was excited to see interest in a project at her alma mater.

Inside Out is a platform for people to stand up on anything they care about,” Keller said. “I was hoping someone would bring the project to Chapel Hill.”

Archer said the goal of the project is to highlight the diverse roles water plays in our lives. For example, an athlete may rely on water to hydrate herself during practice. A groundskeeper might use water to tend to the plants on campus.

“We don’t want 100 photos of UNC students just smiling. We want to take action shots and candid shots — otherwise, it’s just a yearbook,” he said.

Although the theme of water has been touched on by some other Inside Out projects, Archer and Orr have set their campaign apart by taking pictures of some of their subjects underwater.

“There have been hundreds and hundreds of these projects done around the world. But underwater portraits have never been done before. It really gets at the theme of water in a unique way,” said Archer.

Archer, Orr and their team of photographers plan on installing the project in late March to coincide with UN World Water Day. They’ll take to the walkways and walls of campus to share their portraits and spread their message.

“We intend for this to not only show how water shapes our lives, but to inspire people to be thankful for the many ways it helps us,” said Orr. “We want people to recognize and think twice about just how much water impacts our lives.”

“Water in our World,” launched in 2012, officially comes to a close as a pan-campus theme at the end of the academic year. “Feeding a Hungry World” will be the next campuswide initiative, debuting in fall 2015.

Story by Parth Shah ’15

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