Clémentine Schneidermann was living in Switzerland in 2010 when she learned about a fan club dedicated to Elvis Presley. She visited the homes of the fans and photographed them. A few years later, Schneidermann moved to Wales where she learned about the Porthcawl Elvis Festival, which bills itself as the largest festival in the world of its kind, where thousands of Elvis fans gather every year to meet one another and compete in competitions including “the best Welsh Elvis” or “Elvis of the year.”
“At that time I was doing another project for my master’s degree, and I never intended to fall into Elvis again!” she wrote via email. She decided to go to the festival anyway.
“Imagine a Welsh working-class holiday destination full of caravans, Elvis’s concerts and impersonators in pubs,” she wrote. “I shot 10 rolls that weekend, and I liked almost every picture. A few months later I received a grant from Magnum Photos and Ideastap [a British charity supporting the arts] to visit Memphis. I spent a month there, walking on Elvis Presley Boulevard and trying to understand how this place became such an important pilgrimage destination.”
Portraits are the core of her series of Elvis festivals in Wales and Tennessee, “I Called Her Lisa-Marie,” that also includes environmental shots that “help to breathe between each portrait.” The goal of the series is to offer a different vision of the influence of Elvis; it was important to her to respect the people she met and not make fun of what they were doing.
“I was very moved by their dedication,” she wrote. “The title comes from what Liz [a fan living in Newport, Wales] told me. Talking about her daughter she said ‘I call her Lisa-Marie, but she doesn’t know the meaning of it.’ I found that beautiful.”
Schneidermann said she knew very little about Elvis while growing up in France. Her father preferred the music of the “French Elvis” Johnny Hallyday.
“Of course my interest for the King grew a lot by doing this project,” she wrote. “I read biographies, I went to at least 50 tribute concerts over the years, I listen to his music for my own pleasure, and I learn about him everyday.” She said if she wanted, she could travel the world looking for Elvis tributes and festivals and never stop working. It wouldn’t surprise her if in 50 years she’s still working on the project, although her dedication might not rival that of the fans of Elvis.
“I think that the music is the most important thing for the fans. They know all the albums, have watched every concert, and have an important collection of records. Most of the fans I met were over 50 years old and have been into Elvis’ music all their life. He is a member of their family; they usually say that he is a brother and will always be. A lot of people discovered him during their childhood because their parents were listening to him, and I think there is a big part of melancholia.”