NEW YORK, NY.-
Michael Jackson died in Los Angeles on June 25, 2009. Since then his popularity as a figure of representation has soared and a kind of sub-culture has emerged that both celebrates and builds upon his artistic accomplishments. The Michael Jacksons
(Little Moth Press, August 26, 2014) presents Los Angeles-based photographer Lorena Turner's fascinating exploration of the lives of Michael Jackson impersonators, tribute artists, and look-alikes. After witnessing their performances at spontaneous memorials in New York City and Los Angeles shortly after Michael Jackson's death, Lorena embarked on a five-year project to meet, befriend and photograph the "representers" as she calls them, of pop music megastar Michael Jackson.
This stunning volume includes dramatic studio portraits and interviews with over 35 Michael Jacksons. To accompany her compelling images and narratives, Turner has written an exhaustive analysis of the different types of performers, and how these interpretive artists are changing the way in which world culture understands Michael Jackson.
Turner began her work by seeking high profile interpreters in Los Angeles, eventually, contacting interpreters living and working around New York City, Las Vegas, Texas, Arizona, and several cities across the South. Each representer has his or her individualized life outlook and career goals, skills, costumes and makeup. Most, but not all, use makeup to approximate Michael Jackson's thin nose, rounded eyes and sharpened jawline. All of them had a defining moment in their lives when Michael Jackson inspired them or helped them see themselves as performers. Among the striking aspects of the book are the personal narratives of some representers, along with their descriptions of how they create their "looks."
Devra Gregory was the first impersonator Lorena booked for a photo studio shoot. A 51-year old Caucasian woman who lives in San Diego, she goes by "Dev" or "Dev as MJ" when in character. There was one image from the shoot that electrified Taylor -- when the essence of her individuality was visible through the Michael Jackson visage. This became Lorena's goal for each photo shoot, and provides the power for Lorena's photographs -- her ability to show the individual in the act self-transformation. One can read the emotion and aspiration in their performance for the camera.
Turner first met and was inspired by Sean Vezina's dancing on Hollywood Boulevard in 2007, photographing him again in 2009 in front of Jimmy Kimmel's theater. Sean is Causcasian and grew up in Santa Cruz, California. He taught himself to dance after seeing Michael Jackson on TV in the 1990s, and after graduating from high school he traveled between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, performing in both cities for over a decade.
Jovan Rameau is another Hollywood Boulevard Michael Jackson with an MFA from the Institute of Advanced Theater Training at Harvard, making a decent living as a representer. He immigrated to the U.S. from Haiti, and aspires to an acting career. He is a lookalike whose features and gestures are convincing, although his skin color is darker than Michael's in his later years. This leads to some provocative street interactions.
Omar Rajpute, a 27-year old Pakistani man, came to Taylor from a Craigslist ad. His version of Michael Jackson was that of a performer, calling himself "The Prince of Pop." He brought a stuffed ape to hold, as a reference to Michael Jackson's chimpanzee, Bubbles. Among his professional efforts, he auditioned for the FOX talent-show competition, So You Think You Can Dance. SONY wouldn't authorize the use of Michael Jackson's music, so he dropped out of the competition in the third round.
Additional fascinating representers include Jen Amerson, who goes by "JenNjuice4MJ," a white 37-year old female impersonator from Florence, South Carolina who performs at private events for primarily African-American audiences, and African-American Charles James (aka Scooby and MJ.5), a student at St. John's University studying entertainment management. He performs as Michael Jackson in Times Square, New York City and small parties in Brooklyn and Queens.
In the final essay in the book, Turner concludes: "If Michael Jackson were not such a towering image, if his talent had not been so enormous, and if his drive toward self-determination had not been so fierce, the possibilities expressed by the performers I have studied and presented might lay dormant. But even now, nearly five years after his untimely death, Michael Jackson continues exerting enormous influence in our culture. Through the work of the Michael Jacksons, this influence appears to grow and expand in meaning and the potential to liberate our notions of identity and self-expression."
Lorena Turner teaches photography in the Communication Department at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, California. Her work is shown nationally and internationally in venues as diverse as the United Nations Headquarters, the Arc Light Theater in Hollywood, and the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art. She has a BA from the University of Massachusetts, an MFA from the University of Oregon, and studied sociology at the New School for Social Research. Turner's work has covered a diverse range of subjects including new American citizens, post-conflict communication in Rwanda, the perception of community amongst residents in Palenque on the Pacific coast of Colombia, and the fingerprints of Chinese workers on objects made for sale in the United States.
Turner began The Michael Jacksons in the summer of 2009, shortly after Jackson's death, with the objective of uniting photographic documentary production methodologies with sociological research practices. She lives in Los Angeles and New York City.