Alison Jackson Captures Celeb Moments Sans Celebrity

January 26, 2023

By Hillary K. Grigonis

What are celebrities doing when the world isn’t watching? That’s the question that artist Alison Jackson explores in her photographs. While Jackson’s photographs appear to capture candid moments among celebrities and world leaders, the images are actually highly-orchestrated productions using doppelgängers to imagine what happens behind closed doors. Jackson’s latest series, a project designed to highlight a vegan line of options by Bird’s Eye, imagines the moment that Prince William and Kate Middleton read Prince Harry’s new memoir, Spare.

Jackson’s work ranges from images of The Queen shopping at Tesco to Marilyn Monroe’s alleged affair with John F. Kennedy. The British photographer describes the images as “pictures that we’ve all imagined, but never seen before.” While much of Jackson’s “celebrity” photography encourages discussion about fake news, her latest work mixes meat alternatives from Bird’s Eye with celebrity lookalikes. (And, she adds, the food really does look and taste like the real thing.)

[Read: Lookalikes Portrait Project Leads to Discovery on Doppelgänger DNA]

The Bird’s Eye campaign imagines a question that fans of the royal family are thinking: Has Prince William read Prince Harry’s memoir? How did he react? The images imagine the royal couple eating vegan burgers in bed while guffawing over the memoir. The series also includes images of King Charles and Camilla lookalikes eating meat-free burgers by the fireplace. Another set imagines Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his family at the dinner table.

Most of Jackson’s photographs are the result of time spent setting up the shoot, planning all the actors, locations, props and wardrobes, with the latest shoot taking about two weeks of prep work. Yet, Jackson shoots in a way that makes the images feel candid and unposed.

Alison Jackson's photographs include this one of "Prince William and Kate Middleton".
© Alison Jackson

“I shoot through door cracks and window frames and past flowers and flower pots to really make the viewer feel like they are looking in on something maybe they shouldn’t,” Jackson says. “They are looking on on a private moment. That’s what I do. I shoot it blurry and grainy, that’s all designed to help us think that it’s a caught, snatched picture.”

One of the challenges of Jackson’s photographs is that the lookalikes typically only look similar from a particular angle, at a particular moment. While she uses wigs and sometimes a prosthetic like a fake nose, much of the resemblance comes from the angle, she says. As a result, she’s constantly directing the actors to create the right moment from the angle where they look the most like their celebrity lookalike. Taking the photographs for the Bird’s Eye campaign took up one long 12-hour day, she says.

[Read: Sigma’s 60-600mm Sports Lens: The First 10X Zoom for Mirrorless]

Jackson works with zoom lenses in order to shoot different focal lengths quickly. “It’s just that split moment, that deciding moment when they look like the real deal,” she explains. “I have to take a lot of pictures and I never know when I’m going to get it.” The photographer adds that she could shoot with any camera body but fast, versatile lenses are the most essential to her work. (She shoots with Canon and Sony bodies and favors Sigma’s zoom lenses.)

Another challenge the artist regularly faces is finding doppelgängers, laughing as she recalls running after people on the streets. She also puts ads out on social media looking for the right actors. (She’s currently looking for a Meghan Markle and a Joe Biden lookalike.) Others she works with on multiple shoots, including the Prince William lookalike from her latest series. See all of Alison Jackson’s photographs here.