Jackson, raised in New Jersey and descended from a follower of the Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, grew up in a family that cast its eyes across the Atlantic. Though they were “wholly and proudly black Americans,” she said during a recent phone interview, her grandfather acquired land in Ghana, believing that the family “should always have a connection to the continent.” Later, Jackson studied under photographer
in Berlin, but her first photography teacher was her father. Jackson’s family cultivated in her a perspective on global blackness that countered the stereotypes peddled in Sally Struthers’s Christian Children’s Fund commercials and the ethnographic condescension of National Geographic
“My family did a lot of work to make sure that I understood the broader spectrum of what black identity looks like,” Jackson said. This contrast between the black life she saw around her and black bodies as reflected in the media permeates her work. Jackson often restages images from history in a practice she’s called
“[fighting] photography with photography.”
By presenting her own version of imagery initially framed by a white, Western gaze, Jackson explores themes around race, colonialism, and reproduction. A 2011 series, “Black Madonna Tabloids,” found her recreating glossy spreads of the kind found in People and Us Weekly, but rather than images of white celebrities out and about with adopted black children, Jackson herself posed with pale babies and toddlers. In “Archival Impulse” (2013), she recreated images from early colonial photography, sometimes posing as every figure in the reference photo, nude Africans and heavily clothed white missionaries alike. One image in her series “Poverty Pornography” is a retelling of Kevin Carter’s photograph The vulture and the little girl (1993)—but here, Jackson is both the looming vulture and the starving child.