University City

‘Inside Out 11M’ mobile photo booth stops to make portraits in NoDa

A few Mondays ago, a line of people stood outside the Neighborhood Theatre and waited.

They contemplated with each other – mostly complete strangers – how they would pose if their turns came.

As the sun’s strength grew, they shifted together under the marquee for a cool crevice of shadow. But mostly they waited and wondered whether the rumor were true.

Word had spread through social media that Inside Out 11M’s traveling photo booth was going to make a stop at the NoDa theater that morning. If true, all their life-size likenesses would soon be pasted onto buildings around Charlotte as part of a national public art exhibition.

“I saw on Facebook that they were coming here,” said Sydney Duarte, 27, who lives a few blocks from the theater. “I love art, and I’ve been following them forever.”

The brainchild of renowned artist JR, “Inside Out 11M” is an extension of the Inside Out Project, where public street pastings of people are used to make a statement about a particular cause.

In San Diego, the posters went up to draw attention to what some deem is California’s flawed education system. In Cuernavaca, Mexico, they went up to focus on the city’s escalating violence.

The point has always been to draw enough attention to start a conversation about the cause.

Inside Out 11M’s purpose has been to bring light to the plight of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

Among the crowd, Armando Bellmas waited, too.

Bellmas, director of communications for the Latin American Coalition, had helped arrange the project’s stop in Charlotte.

“If you look at all the different people assembled here, everybody is from somewhere else, or their ancestors were from somewhere else,” said Bellmas. “We wanted to show the diversity of Charlotte, and show that we’re a nation of immigrants that come together to make this country great.”

Since the Inside Out Project began in 2011, the photographs of more than 120,000 people have been pasted around the world.

Of those, 6,000 were made specifically for Inside Out 11M in such cities as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas and Raleigh, where 853 photos were shot and pasted.

“I think immigration is (overlooked) a lot,” George Franklin Howard, a tattoo artist from Wesley Heights, said as he waited in the growing line outside the theater. “Charlotte’s one of those cities with a lot of transplants, and it’s interesting to see where it’s going.”

As morning’s window began to close, a black-and-white bread truck rounded the corner of East 35th Street, and the crowd outside the Neighborhood Theatre shared one collective smile.

Out jumped a trio of people, scoping the building and scanning the crowd.

“Here, I think maybe 50 or 60 posters,” photographer Jaime Scatena estimated as he looked at the space above the marquee.

One by one, the crowd climbed into the back of the traveling photo booth, closed the black curtain, and snapped their photo. A few minutes later, they watched as a 35- by 55-inch poster of their photo slid from a slot on the side of the truck.

“I used to say we have a hundred drawing monkeys in there, but it’s actually a grand format printer,” Scatena told them.

Moments later, the crew slathered each poster’s back with wheat paste and smoothed it onto the façade.

“We are just a flash forum so people can stand up for what they believe, using their faces,” said Scatena, as he watched his subjects’ smiles when their likenesses were hoisted up the building. “That’s why it’s such a magical thing.”