26/10/2012 16:37 BST | Updated 26/12/2012 10:12 GMT

Alison Jackson On Obama, Assange And Why 'Reality' Doesn't Really Matter (INTERVIEW)

"You can watch a little bit of war from your nice living room - 30 seconds of what's going on in Syria - and when you've had enough, switch over to some celebrity programme. We live our life through screens and images in this way, and we don't know what is real or fake anymore. It doesn't matter. Everything is on the level of entertainment now."

Unattributed, this might sound like the words of someone fed up with the modern world. But for Alison Jackson, the photographer and satirist who has made a career out of playing with our perceptions of fame and current events, the 24 hour media landscape isn't something to get upset about.

"I actually think it makes us very light hearted," she says.


Alison Jackson

"We'll never get to the truth about the people we read about, and we don't care."

Jackson's work involves recruiting look-a-likes of famous figures and creating paparazzi-style shots of them in awkward or embarrassing situations. After a Bafta-winning TV show, DoubleTake, she was quickly embraced as Britain's logical successor to Splitting Image.

But her more recent work, commissioned by the Art Below and coming soon to a London tube station near you, has taken aim across the pond at the two most talked-about men in the world: President Obama and Mitt Romney, his election rival.

The most memorable image depicts the two men in a boxing match. Does she let her own politics leak into her work?

"Of course my own political believes inform the ideas I come up with," she tells me.

"But I am also trying to stand outside of that and look at situation objectively. In the Obama and Romney boxing match, I don't think anyone is particularly winning."

obama romney

Elsewhere in the new series, Hilary Clinton is locked in a card game with a suspiciously authentic-looking Julian Assange. It turns out that that's because it's really him.

"We flew the Hilary Clinton look-a-like in from LA. She arrived in the afternoon Assange's house in the country where he was under house arrest at the time. We did the shot in the couple hours then flew her home. It was interesting to meet Assange. He was a pleasure to work with. He took direction very well," she says.

"I really like mixing the real and the fake in that way, so you can't really tell what's real and what's not. I think that reflects the position we're in at the moment with the way we live our lives."

Time and again when talking about her work Jackson returns to this idea of people no longer knowing - or even particularly wanting to know - the 'truth' behind what we consume in the media, whether it's frivolous celebrity gossip or serious news.

For Jackson, the watershed moment for both her and the country came in 1997.

"When Princess Diana died, I couldn't understand why people were mourning her death in such an enormous, hysterical way when they didn't actually know her for real. People felt they knew her intimately because they'd read a bunch of media stories about her even though they'd never actually met her.

"I thought this was an extraordinary phenomenon. I was a student at the Royal College of Arts at the time, overlooking Kensington Gardens. For a whole year this was going on - night lights and flowers being left outside the gardens. What's extraordinary is that Diana was hated at the time of her death. Suddenly, over night, she became sacred because she died. It was a mass public guilt and people wanted to believe in her after all, but it was too late really."

Jackson reacted by creating the first - and arguably still her most controversial - spoof image. It showed the late Dianna and Dodi Fayed holding a mixed race baby.

" It played on the public wondering if Diana loved Dodi, if she would have married him, if she was murdered because she was pregnant with him... all the questions that were floating around the public imagination," she remembers.

After Diana, Jackson's career went from strength to strength. But is it difficult now, 15 years later, to remain relevant, and keep thinking of new ideas?

"It becomes a personal challenge to keep up with the 24 hour news cycle," she admits.

"But I love being topical. How fast can one create these images? I am very, very fast. Everyone thought the Prince Harry naked photographs were mine anyway. I was sat on a beach when they broke and had the media calling to ask if they were mine. That says a lot in its self."

Though Jackson has adapted over the years to the reflect the speed of the news - her website aims to have a new photo up every day - old challenges remain in place, chief among them finding the all-important look-a-likes.

"I still find myself running up to people in the street or in restaurants, which is very embarrassing and terrible. I need an Angela Merkel and a Jennifer Aniston.

"I also need a Kate Moss - I've seen every model in England and none of them are the right shape. I also need a Boris Johnson. Right now all I have is a big bloke in a bad wig."

Alison Jackson Spoofs

Check out more from Alison Jackson on her website.