Alison Jackson: Beyond the Truth
by Dolores Pulella
Since its origin, photography has been perceived as a faithful reconstruction of reality and in this was the feature that made it feel almost miraculous; During its history almost two centuries long, the photographers that have sensed the power of the medium became more and more, understanding the potential of something capable of turning into reality even the images that were part of the subconscious, also thanks to the practice of artists that have operated in this sense, influenced by the art of Dada and Surrealism.
It can be said that the artistic path of Alison Jackson, an award-winning British artist, revolves around the ability of the photographic medium to make the lie true; any scene can become reality and therefore truth just by “activating the shutter”. This magic element of photography is used by Jackson to turn into reality thoughts that have become images in the minds of millions of people. The artist, first studied sculpting at the Chelsea College of Art and Design and then continued her artistic training studying photography at the Royal College of Art in London. Since the time of her graduation in 1999, she has focused her attention on the world of celebrities, and on how much this world is considered the pantheon of contemporary society. If at first her photographs were not well received, she was eventually asked to collaborate with the press and to work for television, winning the British Academy Television Award in 2003 for the series “Doublefake” made in collaboration with the BBC.
The key element in the modus operandi of Jackson’s work consists in putting under the spotlight famous personalities of our time, such as members of the royal family, politicians and international stars, and having them in embarrassing or in absolutely normal situations, she accomplishes this through the use of impersonators who she finds around the world. Once the mise en scène has been prepared, all that is left to do is to take the photograph which is then subjected to careful post-production work. The results are so close to reality that even an expert eye can be misled. This is how she realized her first shots of Lady Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed with a mixed race son, of Marylin Monroe with President J.F. Kennedy, of G. W. Bush and T. Blair in the sauna,of the bachelorette party of Camilla Parker Bowles, or Queen Elizabeth in her underwear, Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle as they fight furiously… just to name a few. These are scenes that “at least once each one of us has imagined”, Jackson says, and which become concrete thanks to her work that satisfies the voyeuristic thirst of an audience that looks at the “images” in need of reassurance .
In recent years the artist has been attracted to the controversial figure of Donald Trump. In November 2016, she organized a flashmob protest with an impersonator of the President in front of the Trump Tower in Manhattan, in addition, she made him the protagonist of several provocative shots in which he appears in compromising poses, particularly significant is the famous one with Miss Mexico.
In Jackson’s work, which has been defined by some as “humorous”, there is a certain component of protest, an invitation to reflect on the characters who decide the political fate at a global level. This is the case of the series of photographs featuring Bush and Blair at the time of the war in Iraq, or those of David Cameron and Boris Johnson. It could be said that it is a humor flavoured with a certain dose of political satire, a form of protest that masks itself with irony. In addition to investigating the contemporary Olympus of celebrities, in the “Disaster” series the artist has focused on the feeling of fear that pervades us when we mentally see ourselves projected in a plane crash, a terrorist attack or the sinking of a ship, sometimes, in fact, anticipating what would become reality. Although photography and video are her expressive media of preference, Jackson has also experimented with sculpture, the subject of her first degree, always with the aim of confusing the context of reality and fiction; this led to the silicone sculptures of G. W. Bush, D. Trump and Queen Elizabeth, exhibited at the Tate in London and at the Center G. Pompidou in Paris.
Alison Jackson’s works are currently part of the collections of MoMA San Francisco, the Royal College of Art in London, the Center Pompidou in Paris and the Musée de la Photographie in Charleroi, and have been exhibited in the most prestigious museums, galleries and international events such as Fotografiska Stockholm and Tallin, the Hayward Gallery, Paris Photo, the National Portrait Gallery in London, the International Center of Photography in New York, the Venice Biennale, the Musée de la Photo in Montréal and the Kunsthalle in Vienna.