Jan. 3, 2007 -- Are the rich and famous really just like the rest of us? The paparazzi go to great lengths to catch celebrities doing ordinary things, but most photos of celebrities still capture only the staged moments -- the beautiful and flawless -- in their lives.
British photographer Alison Jackson, though, has built her career documenting private moments even the most intrepid members of the paparrazzi couldn't catch, such as a snapshot of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom sitting not on her throne, but on a toilet reading a newspaper.
Looking through Jackson's portfolio, anyone might wonder how she's received such unprecedented access to one of the most private families in the world. But on second look, it's clear her royal images aren't what they seem.
Jackson has made a career out of using celebrity look-alikes to comment on celebrity culture. She said she photographs what's already in our own imaginations.
But her photos don't come without controversy.
When the shot of the queen on the toilet was published a few years ago, it caused a huge uproar. "The queen on the toilet is a very British thing," Jackson said. "The saying is that you can't imagine the queen going to the loo, so I've made an image where I've sort of addressed that."
Jackson said she's not poking fun at the queen, and she actually has great respect for her. She said that what she's "messing with" is the public's fascination with people they don't even know.
Jackson said celebrities aren't giving us the whole truth, and when that's combined with photography, the truth can get lost. "I think the very nature of photography, because of its seductive powers, exploits us," she explained. "We think it's telling a truth, but it is not. It's telling a partial truth."
Depicting Fantasy and Questioning Truth
Jackson wasn't a big follower of the comings and goings of her country's royal family. That's why her reaction to the death of Princess Diana stunned her so.
"My reaction … really surprised me, because I didn't really pay much attention to Princess Diana. I wasn't really that interested in her. How could I care about a person that I really didn't think I cared about? I think it was because of the familiarity, the image of her on page after page after page that you really begin to feel you know the person, in this case Diana."
And so it was only natural that Jackson focused on Diana for her next project, the image Jackson calls "Diana, Dodi, and Baby" shocked the public. The image depicts a very convincing Princess Diana look-alike, her boyfriend at the time of her death, Dodi Fayed, and the baby they may have had together if the couple not died in a Paris car crash.
Jackson could not believe the reaction the picture received. "I had a show at the Royal College of Art, and the whole street had to be stopped," she recalled. The queen's husband, Prince Phillip, was set to open the show but refused because of the image. The press deemed her work tasteless. One headline read, "How low can art go?" But Jackson didn't care, believing that there were larger issues she was addressing.
"I created a picture that depicted the fantasy that exists in the public mind, which was Diana's love for Dodi and their imaginary Arab baby that I created," Jackson said. "But then there was a conflict. When you look at the photo, should there be an Arab baby so close to the blue-blood royal monarchy? Did she die or was Diana murdered? These were the questions being asked in England at the time."
Jackson moved on from stills to video and has had a number of projects that have aired on the BBC and other networks. She especially likes the program she created that includes an actress playing an intoxicated Camilla Parker Bowles.
Jackson says she's currently in talks with a number of U.S. television outlets aimed at bringing her work to American audiences. She's held casting calls in New York and Los Angeles and even attended a look-alike convention in Las Vegas where she was inundated -- no surprise -- with Elvis impersonators.
Her book, which includes Paris Hilton, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes look-alikes, is poised for a U.S. release this spring. And anything you can't imagine people of privilege doing, you will most likely find in there.