An Elvis of Wigan Tribute Artist Arrives in Memphis: Clementine Schneidermann’s Best Photography | Photography

I got to know the boy and his mother well in this photo. I was studying documentary photography at the University of South Wales in 2013 when I came across the annual Elvis Festival in the small seaside town of Porthcawl. I went back five years in a row, inspired and intrigued by the resonance of Elvis in people’s lives.

On my second visit, I found myself in this room behind the bar in one of the venues, where the artists were changing. I saw this little boy playing there at only eight years old, wearing this beautiful white Elvis costume. He was focused, took his job very seriously, and I asked if I could take his portrait. His mother, grandmother and grandfather were also present. His name was John Paul and at that time his stage name was Johnny B Goode. Since then, I have been documenting his work on Elvis.

The following year I returned to the festival and to that back room where, again, I caught John Paul changing into his act. His mother, Alison, told me that they were leaving for Memphis will participate in a contestand I told him that I would be traveling to the United States at that time and asked him if I could join them in town.

So, in August 2016, I met John Paul, his mother and his grandmother, Margaret. John Paul was participating in a youth contest at a large theater on Beale Street, Memphis‘ main street. He also went to record his album at Sun Studio. And then the family visited Elvis’ grave at Graceland. It was a very emotional moment as John Paul’s grandfather – who was also a huge Elvis fan – had died the previous year.

I had this random point-and-shoot camera for ages, more like an instant camera, and took it with me because I wanted less controlled footage. Images that looked more like vacation photos, in a way. I managed to take a few photos that were decent, including this one. Normally I would use a medium format camera, which has a higher resolution. This camera is grittier and just different.

I don’t remember exactly where it was taken, but I do remember her mother’s tattoo was a fake she got on the trip. I think it was probably a parking lot outside Graceland. John Paul’s costume was made by his grandmother, who has also since passed away. She had a bedroom in her attic with a sewing machine and she made all her outfits.

John Paul became interested in Elvis at the age of two and sang for the first time as Elvis – If I Can Dream – at the age of four. He has been singing ever since. He’s 16 now, he’s studying music at university and I’m still in touch with him. He gained a lot of confidence on stage, his voice matured. It was very moving to see him become a man and to hear his voice evolve. His mother was very supportive and encouraging. I went back to the Porthcawl Elvis festival this year in September and saw him again. He aims to become a professional in the entertainment industry and currently performs gigs at local social clubs as well as nursing homes and other venues in his home town of Wigan.

After graduating I decided to stay in Wales because I felt so inspired and worked there a lot. Then in 2016 I did a practice-based PhD, working on a project with groups of young people in the Welsh Valleys for which we created images and ran workshops. We exhibited this project in 2019 at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol. For my Laundry Day project [two pictures from which won the Taylor Wessing portrait prize]I photographed my neighbor during confinement, doing daily chores and resting in her garden.

I grew up in the suburbs of Paris, in a quiet little town. Looking back, I can see that the little things that take place in a suburban setting are what inform my interest in finding original stories that might otherwise be overlooked.

Photography: Clementine Schneidermann

CV of Clementine Schneidermann

Born: Clamart, France, 1991
Qualified: CEPV, Vevey, Switzerland and the University of South Wales
Influence : Lisette model, Julien GermainBruno Dumont, Lise Sarfati, Alessandra Sanguinetti
High point: “Winning the Taylor Wessing Award last week was surreal.”
Low point: “Social media pressure and creative anxiety.”
Trick : “Be curious and passionate about the smallest things, even if they seem insignificant to others.”

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