This photo shows the Queen and Elton John singing together – or does it?!

Alison Jackson explores the idea of celebrity and whether we can believe what we see in a world of screens, imagery and internet (Image credit: Alison Jackson)
Meet the pro: Alison Jackson

Alison Jackson

(Image credit: Alison Jackson)

Alison Jackson is a contemporary BAFTA and multi award winning artist, whose work raises questions about fake news and alternative facts. She makes convincingly realistic work about celebrities doing things in private, using cleverly styled lookalikes to create photographs that explore the media construction of celebrity. In 2019, she launched A Day in Your Life, a competition to discover young photographers from disadvantaged backgrounds.

During the pandemic, I have been busier than ever making photographs and films about celebrity. We think we know celebrities intimately but few people have actually met them for real, so we only know them through the image. 

My work is about how photography is a truly deceitful and slimy medium that we are all addicted to. I aim to raise questions about our voyeuristic obsession by providing glimpses into the lives of the rich, famous and royal – scenes we like to imagine but have never seen before.

We only know celebrities through images in newspapers and social media.

Alison Jackson

The making of the photographs is a nightmare, the most difficult thing I have ever done. Multi-tasking different disciplines and different departments whilst staging these complex scenes is incredibly difficult: From casting of the lookalikes, finding them, transforming them, finding the right wig, styling it, the makeup, prosthetics, the walk and talk – is crazy. The effort is worth it every time, however, the lookalikes end up looking like the real deal.

(Image credit: Alison Jackson)

Finding the lookalikes takes a lot of research. I start by contacting every actor agency, every casting director, even scouring the streets. I am like a portrait painter or a computer analyst, constantly scanning faces everywhere I go, from restaurants to the tube – I even run after people in the street if I feel they are a great lookalike. Sometimes they turn out to be the real celebrity, which is embarrassing.

If I catch up with a potential lookalike, it can go one of two ways, they are either flattered or downright outraged when they are told they are dead-ringers for Boris Johnson or Prince Andrew. One guy ran away from me, shouting angrily that he categorically did not look like Donald Trump! It took years to find a decent Boris and Trump. I had to work with 15 different casting agents, and I’m yet to find a true ‘Boris’.

The transformations are extreme. The wannabe lookalikes go from their ordinary life to diva in 30 seconds, which is what I need for the scene – the ‘celeb’ must walk and talk the real deal otherwise it doesn’t work. This includes the celebrity behaviour.

We only know celebrities through images in newspapers and social media. By repeating this artifice and placing it onto my lookalike, they believe they’re really Kim Kardashian and so do the public. Therefore, aren’t they just as real? It is impossible to tell what is authentic or not.

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