WASHINGTON — French photographer JR, who specializes in giant installations in public places, celebrated the US civil rights movement Thursday with his first installation in Washington.

He took over an unused building a block off U Street in the US capital to create a mural based on an iconic image by late African American photographer Ernest Withers of the landmark 1968 sanitation workers' strike in Memphis, Tennessee.

U Street is historically the heart of Washington's large black community, although the neighborhood is becoming more white and affluent amid an influx of young professionals from other parts of the United States.

On his website, JR said the mural was part of his "unframed project" in which he presents archive images in new contexts.

He selected his Washington venue in memory of the riots that ripped through U Street and other black districts across the United States following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis in April 1968.

"It's fantastic," said one passer-by, political science and history professor Matthew Green, who told AFP Thursday he was previously unaware of the work of the self-described "photograffeur" from Paris.

"It speaks to people who live here... Equal rights were fought for here, it's an important part of our history," he said.