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little girl, elvis presley boulevard, memphis, 2014
“A little girl from Tennessee who was visiting Elvis’s house with her family.”Photography Clémentine Schneidermann

Photographing the people who live to love Elvis

Photographer Clémentine Schneidermann documents an obsession with the 50s pop god, spanning from Porthcawl to Memphis

Taken from the autumn 2019 issue of Dazed. You can buy a copy of our latest issue here

“The project began in 2013, when I was studying photography in Newport, south Wales. Someone told me about an annual Elvis festival in Porthcawl, a seaside town, which gathers hundreds of thousands of people.

“I started taking photographs because I was interested in people and vulnerability – small stories. With Elvis, there was a visual attraction to all the costumes, and I’ve always liked things that are sad or melancholic, things that are a little bit out of context. As a kid I was always very attracted to America. I’ve always had this fantasy about it, but it’s been so photographed and I find it more interesting to capture America outside of America. To find America in small towns – (like) in the middle of Wales.

“In 2014, I received a grant to travel to Memphis, where Elvis moved as a teenager. I stayed mainly around Graceland. The project looks at two places, south Wales and Memphis, and I don’t really say where the pictures are taken, it’s up to the viewer to decide.

“(Like Newport), Memphis is post-industrial, a largely working-class city. I was interested in the Americanisation of the working class in the UK. The culture is very white – in south Wales, it’s all very white anyway, but Memphis has a large black population and, in the whole Elvis community, I didn’t see anyone who was black, except for the people working at Graceland. 

“Most of the people going to the festival weren’t impersonators – they would dress up a little bit but they were mostly normal, everyday people. You’d see them at the supermarket and they would be dressed normally, but with a retro touch – a red jacket, some tattoos or jewellery, gelled hair and sideburns. I met a lot of children – some came with their parents and didn’t really know what was going on, but some of them were part of the competitions, and were impersonators or tribute artists. They know all these things about Elvis. Most people go back every year.

“Elvis is a working-class hero – he was from a very poor family and there’s a lot of admiration for his background and what he became. You can’t generalise because everybody’s got their own relationship to him, but I definitely noticed that he’s more popular in post-industrial regions – there are a lot of Elvis things happening in the north of England, there’s a big festival in Birmingham as well. It’s the culture, American culture, that appeals – a nostalgia for the era.”

Unpublished and published works taken from I Called Her Lisa-Marie by Clémentine Schneidermann, out now via Chose Commune