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Clémentine Schneiderman - I called her Lisa Marie

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Memphis, 16th August 2016: I’m standing in the rain on Elvis Presley Boulevard with two cameras around my neck and one in my pocket. The sounds of Graceland Radio are coming from the speakers outside: “Welcome to the Candle-light Vigil, the night of the year.” Thousands of people surround me,they stretch out in one long line, the length of the Boulevard. Elvis Presley died on this day, thirty-nine years ago. And for thirty-nine years fans from all over the world have been gathering here, on the Boulevard, holding a candle. It’s a very symbolic event, with significant media coverage. But it’s raining this year. It’s raining so much that I have to put my three cameras away. The candles blow out, one after the other. 

So for a few dollars, I buy some plastic ponchos at the Souvenir Shop for my fellow travellers: Johnny B. Goode, his mother Alison and grandmother Margaret. They don’t seem to be bothered by the rain, it probably makes little difference when you come from the UK. It has been two years since I first photographed Johnny. It was during the Porthcawl Elvis festival in Wales. He had just turned eight and had performed at the Cabin Bar. The next year, in 2015, I meet him at the same spot. His mother is prepping him for the concert. She tells me about their plan to go to Memphis next summer to participate in competitions for child performers. I ask if I can join their journey. She says yes. 

It’s still pouring with rain. I decide to move somewhere dry, and wave goodbye to my British friends. Bitterly I regret all the photos that I’d liked to have taken tonight: Johnnyin his white suit holding his mother’s hand who wears a matching white dress; those tears that Margaret sheds when she listens to her late husband’s favourite Elvis song; the shrines that people have built all along the Boulevard; that boy in the beautiful pink suit who came all the way from Alabama; Elvis’s grave covered with flowers; the celebrants that will still be holding their candles as the sun starts to rise. 

But never mind the candles. Never mind the sunrise and the flowery grave. Everything that I have photographed during the past four years is also proof of their fervour, fervour that I have witnessed in the most intimate of places: on the surface of Steve’s bedroom wall; Brian’s skin; Robbie’s smile. Or on a Friday night in a South Wales pub, where their dreams and reality meet. 

I am often asked why people like Elvis so much. I’ve been forever looking for an answer. Maybe in truth there is no one particular reason. In a way, it seems that somehow their identities have merged with Elvis. His music has become the soundtrack of their lives, for better or for worse.


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