The installation at Ellis Island featured large archival photographs of immigrants displayed throughout the island’s abandoned hospital. For this project, JR decided to photograph recent immigrants and paste their images on the city’s streets, where they and other immigrants are often invisible. The pasting would be made in the heart of Manhattan, on Flatiron plaza, the triangle of pavement between Fifth Avenue, Broadway and East 23rd Street.
JR photographed 16 people who arrived in New York within the last year and made their portraits while they walked down the streets of NoLIta. JR and his team zeroed in on Elmar Aliyev, a 20-year-old waiter at Old Baku, an Azerbaijani restaurant on Ditmas Avenue in Brooklyn. Elmar immigrated to the United States from Azerbaijan last August after he won the green-card lottery. He likes to walk in Central Park and around the Plaza, locations from his favorite movie, “Home Alone 2.” JR liked the way Aliyev swung his arms when he walked.
Aliyev’s picture was then printed on 62 strips of paper. JR and his 20-person crew took these strips to Flatiron Plaza and began affixing them to the ground at 4 a.m. The pasting took about three and a half hours and resulted in a 150-foot-tall image of Aliyev striding eastward. The sun came up. Pedestrians began to wander over Aliyev. Just as JR had predicted, they often walked right over him without even noticing.