It’s been almost five years since Michael Jackson passed away. The night before his Los Angeles memorial, in April 2009, photographer Lorena Turner saw three performers on Hollywood Boulevard, all masquerading as different versions of the King of Pop.
“It became clear to me that these people weren’t so much honoring Michael Jackson as much as they were creating a hybrid identity through their representation of him,” she tells Co.Design. “In other words, they were performing a convergence of their own identity with Michael Jackson.” Intrigued, Turner kept photographing the performers in L.A. and New York, and then smaller towns across the country. This May, the collected portraits are being published in her book, The Michael Jacksons.
Jackson, perhaps more than any other musical performer, gets scholarly credit for breaking down racial barriers. As Turner points out, when Thriller aired he was the first black performer with a music video on MTV. Then of course, over the years he began to modify his physical appearance, until he barely looked like the young kid singing with his brothers and sisters in Jackson 5. Many thought he had abandoned his black heritage. But the impersonators photographed embrace almost every Jackson iteration–some taking painstaking care with makeup to recreate Jackson’s bizarre nose, or his stringy locks of hair. Some even blend different Jackson eras together, which makes Turner ask: “Where was [Jackson] in his career when they first saw him? How much or how little of his history did they know when they first saw his explosive performances?” In this way, the book is just as much about the dedicated subculture of Jackson impersonators as it is a study on the King of Pop himself.
The Michael Jacksons will go on sale this spring. Pre-order a copy here.