VIP – Judith Jamison

4 Jun 2010 – 6:12 PM Comments

Dancer VIP: Judith Jamison – Alvin Ailey former Artistic Director

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Are These Pictures of Britney Real? Voyeurs!

Submitted by on 9 Feb 2009 – 8:08 AM Comments

Is this Britney Spears in a casket?

Meet Alison Jackson, the provocative, yet talented photographer. Her staging of look-alike-celebrities in situations we’ve only witnessed as mental images, wake-up the voyeur within.

Bill and Monica smoke the cigar in the Oval - Photo by Alison Jackson
Bill and Monica smoke the cigar in the Oval Office – Photo by Alison Jackson

“It’s a world exclusive! You’re the first one to see it!” Normally I would just delete an email with a title like this, only this time it was from photographer Alison Jackson. Attached in the mail was a photograph of Britney Spears, but not the kind that we are used to seeing: her in a Taco Bell line at three in the morning, in some state of vehicular emergency, or walking down the steps of a courthouse looking distressed. In this picture, she was dead, lying in a casket with her arms folded, and all around her were photographers fighting each other for a picture. At first, it seemed funny, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a possibly believable outcome of this whole media circus surrounding one troubled girl’s out of control spiral and the public’s morbid fascination with all of it. If photographers were allowed at her funeral, they would surely be there, kicking each other’s asses to get the best shot. It seemed a fitting and bitterly funny conclusion to the conversation I had with the photographer recently about the public’s fascination with photos that pry into other people’s lives.

George W Bush tries to solve a Rummy Cube in the Oval Office - Photo by Alison Jackson
George W Bush tries to solve a Rubik’s Cube in the Oval Office – Photo by Alison Jackson

Alison Jackson has spent most of her career exploring this issue in her work. She first came to prominence as a photographer and artist with a now infamous photo series called Mental Images, featuring spot-on look-alikes of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed holding their supposed mixed race lovechild. The pictures were so convincing that they caught people off guard, and ever since, she has been causing double takes around the world.

Kennedy, Photo by Alison Jackson
JFK and Marilyn Monroe, Photo by Alison Jackson

Some of her work has included behind closed door photos of John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe in each others arms, photos Madonna at home ironing clothes and doing housework, and Michael Jackson smearing lipstick on the face of his little boy. She even published a set featuring the “lost year” of George Bush from 1972 to 1973, depicting him partying shirtless with Saigon bar girls and passed out next to a bottle of Jack Daniels.

She recently took look-alikes of David and Victoria Beckham to Tokyo to go shopping, and was mobbed by hordes of people brandishing cameras. Even after she told them that they were impersonators, the crowds didn’t care, which gets at the heart of her work. Her photographs are not merely clever jokes. They are provocative extensions of rumors and suspicions that already exist in the public consciousness. Her pictures make the leap for you. They also frequently indict the very people looking at them, the public that hungers for this kind of invasion of privacy. When we look at a photograph of a Princess Diana look-alike giving the camera the finger, she isn’t just saying fuck you to the person taking the picture, but also to the people who are looking at it – fuck you for making my private life a valuable commodity. When we look at Britney Spears lifeless in the ground, she is predicting a future not just for an unfortunate celebrity, but for us as a culture. Her work might seem to be trumped by paparazzi everyday, but her photos ask the questions that theirs don’t.


Prince William try his soon to be crown, naked in front of his Royal mirror - Photo by Alison JacksonPrince William trying on his soon to be crown, naked in front of his Royal mirror – Photo by Alison Jackson

Blake Davis, Movmnt Magazine: Where does it all end?

Alison Jackson: That’s the question, isn’t it? It’s a slow spiral downward. I think it’s just going to get worse.

It’s very apocalyptic: death by camera.

I have an interesting story about that actually. When I was in school I did this piece for my senior thesis: I made a sculpture – it was of a cross. I then carefully lit and took a photograph of the cross. And for the piece, I put the sculpture and the picture of the cross right next to each other. When people came through the gallery, they all went straight up to the photograph. They were captivated by it. They wouldn’t even look at the sculpture. The real thing was sitting right next to them and they would have nothing to do with it. When you take a photograph of something, it becomes an object. It stops being three-dimensional, it loses its texture, its sense of presence, its context. It stops being real, and I think it’s easier for people to deal with something that’s not real than something that is.

The other night at a concert I saw people watching the entire show through cameras on their cell phones and video screens on their digital cameras. They were missing the experience of the concert.

That’s interesting. Making a movie of the concert had a higher value in their minds than actually being at and watching the concert.

It’s tragic, right?

Well that’s the danger, isn’t it? When you photograph your own experiences and photograph yourself, you turn yourself into an object as well. You can look at your own life outside of yourself. The image is more seductive than the real thing.

That’s sad. I know people who meet other people on the internet based on photographs of a body part.

It’s the objectification of the real person. Nobody should be reduced to a body part. You miss a real conversation and real interaction, and the excitement of all that. But more importantly, photographs lie. They 100% lie. The way a photograph is taken or cropped, you lose all context. I think about that classic photo of the naked little girl in Vietnam in the napalm attack. That picture has become iconic. There are photos of her a year later and she is healthy and happy and just fine. There are much larger stories that pictures don’t tell.

Madonna changes David's pampers - Photo by Alison Jackson
Madonna changes David’s pampers – Photo by Alison Jackson

It’s funny because articles get smaller and smaller in magazines and newspapers and pictures just keep getting bigger.

The nature of photographs and films are to look good. They pull you in, but they only tell a partial truth, never the whole truth. What the problem is with a culture that values pictures and technology the way ours does, is that these partial truths suddenly become the truth. It becomes a culture based on half-truths. Most of our information is [gathered] from images and on screens, and most people don’t realize that this information is typically 2nd or even 3rd hand, and most of these images are positioned by Editors, or Producers in the case of video. These things are rarely real. What I’ve been finding alarming lately is that people are smart enough to know this and they simply don’t care. They don’t care if it’s a lie.

If it doesn’t directly affect them and if it’s entertaining, then who cares?

We are so far removed from the foundations of what’s real. Princess Diana was lying in the back of wrecked car literally bleeding to death, and she was surrounded by photographers taking pictures. No one was calling for help or trying to get her out of the car. Were these images more important than a human life? The implications of this are extraordinary. What happens when we don’t care about the real thing anymore? Why isn’t anyone outraged?

Interview and article by Blake Davis

Photography by Alison Jackson

Movmnt Issue 7 - Summer 07 - In the HeightsStory published in Movmnt #7 – Summer 07 – ‘In the Heights’ Spices Up Broadway