Alison Jackson: A world populated by lookalikes

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The photographer tells Zoe Pilger how she shoots those disconcerting pictures

Alison Jackson is showing me a photo on her iPad of the Queen changing the nappy or checking the sex of baby George as Kate and Wills stand by, smiling. “I have about eight babies,” she says. “Because they only last about an hour and we do a full-day's shoot.”

Of course the scene is staged, not real. This is Jackson's trademark: lookalike celebrities posed in private moments that the public would never otherwise see. Often the images appear to have been captured surreptitiously on iPhones, but this latest series looks Hello!-worthy. In another photograph, Kate, Wills and baby George are in the bath together. “I've got five lookalikes of Kate,” says Jackson. “I shoot them in a particular way.” She points to Wills' hairline. “The light's shining behind him so it looks like he's bald.” She smiles. “Tricks like that.”

Jackson, 43, has just got off the “red-eye” from New York, where she has been holidaying with friends in the Hamptons. We meet at the top-floor restaurant of The National Portrait Gallery, overlooking a spectacular but muggy London. She is formidable: glamorous in a tight-fitting black top and immaculate blonde hair. Her figure is toned and she wears large sunglasses like one of her celeb subjects. When she takes them off, her eyes are large and green and penetrating. I feel as though she is boring into my soul or sizing me up for a lookalike photo.

Jackson is a huge fan of Andy Warhol, and she speaks in similar Svengali-like tones. “I think any screen, or any image, is very seductive,” she says. “One makes the people into objects, which is delicious as a viewer, because then you can just fantasise. You can project your own fantasies onto the performer, rather than have to deal with the real person, which is always slightly awkward.” There is a pause, then we both laugh. “We really are living in a time of imagination.” This weekend, a lucky bidder will have the opportunity to pose in one of Jackson's photographs as part of the Macmillan De'Longhi Art Auction. Raising money for cancer support services, there will be an exhibition of the auctioned works at the Royal Collage of Art.

Jackson is fiercely clever, enormous fun, and utterly fascinating about her work and the larger philosophical implications of constructing mise-en-scènes of famous doppelgangers, which have ranged over her 15-year and very fruitful career from Marilyn Monroe masturbating to Tony Blair line-dancing in cowboy regalia on George Bush Jnr's Texas ranch. There is an early shot of Prince William gripping the hair of an adoring fan who has written in red lipstick on his chest: KING. Rather than the expression of an adoring father, his face shows sexual aggression and right-to-rule arrogance.

I put it to Jackson that her images once seemed like critiques of those with wealth and power, a takedown of the empty icons of mass culture, but now seem gentler, less subversive. Indeed, walking through The National Portrait Gallery gift-shop on the way to our meeting, there are postcards of the real Kate and Wills that appear no more cosy than Jackson's latest series. “I've got to gauge it every time something happens,” she says. “And I think the whole Wills and Kate thing is very euphoric.” Is she a royalist? “Well, I'm certainly not anti-royal. I don't think they're a drain or a drag.”

Jackson's career has been entwined with the fall and rise of the royals, following the death of Princess Diana. She made a series of works in the aftermath that are disturbing: she aims a gun at images of Diana's face and shoots. Next, she made a series of works in which she dressed up as Diana. So why did she decide to stop impersonating and start hiring lookalikes? “I wanted to get it right,” she says. “I wanted to actually replace the real. Can you replace the real? Rather than just fake it. I think you can.”

There is a Warhol-esque embrace of the American Dream behind Jackson's vision. And in her own way, she is visionary. She describes growing up in her wealthy landowning family's 11th-century renovated monastery in Gloucestershire. “I lived a very sheltered life,” she says. “And I lived my life with my camera. So I took photographs all the time. But I didn't have much to take photographs of because I lived in the middle of nowhere, with nobody around. All on my own.” Did her parents introduce her to art? “No, I knew nothing. I had a very bad education and didn't really learn anything other than needlework, and I had a phobia of needles anyway. . And then I was supposed to marry someone and stay down in the country and never ever leave. I knew that I would literally drown in nothingness there.”

But she did leave. Despite the family money, Jackson is a self-made woman. She moved to London and became a receptionist in a TV production company instead of going to university. She became a producer at the age of 22. Later, she studied sculpture at Chelsea as a mature student and then photography at the RCA. She doesn't have any children. “I enjoy what I do so there was a point when I made that decision,” she says. Is it possible for women to have a family and a successful career? “I think you can do both. I just think it's much more difficult. She doesn't want to say whether she has a partner or not.

In the future, she would like to direct a feature film and do a PhD on “voyeurism and replacing the real and authenticity, those kinds of things that I'm really fascinated by”. She remarks, wryly: “The edited view is so much better.”

Macmillan De'Longhi Art Auction, tonight, tomorrow and Monday at the Royal Collage of Art, London SW7 (www.rca.ac.uk)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions