28 May 2015
28 May 2015 - Written by Luján Agusti
“I realized over the past few years that I have been drawn to looking at ordinary people and how they try to escape from everyday boredom. Elvis is only one example among many.” Meet Clémentine Schneidermann, the PHmuseum 2015 Grant New Generation Prize winner.
From the series I Called Her Lisa Marie by © Clémentine Schneidermann
You were awarded the PMH 2015Grant New Generation Prize which recognises you as one of the mostpromising contemporary photographers. Being so young, what are yourthoughts and expectations with respect to this recognition?
It is of course a great honor forme to receive this award and also very important. When you dopersonal projects it is difficult sometimes to understand why you doit, and if it will interest people. This award means a lot for me asit shows that the work can reach people’s emotions. Being a youngphotographer in 2015 can sometimes feels hopeless: we are told thatthere is no funding, and that the market is saturated. This is whyorganizations such as the Photographic Museum of Humanity, who arewilling to help emerging photographers through monetary prizes andexposure, are so important.
What first drew you to analyze andphotograph these subjects’ lives?
I became interested in Elvis fansa few years ago, when I was living and studying in Switzerland. I wasstruggling with the lack of originality and the normality ofeverything. When I found this fan club close to where I was living itbecame a fantastic way-out. I loved the fact that these people hadordinary lives, but during the weekend they would go to Elvisconcerts, dress up and praise their idol. One of the first people Iphotographed back in 2010 was selling cigarettes at a train stationin Bulle (a rural town in the French-speaking region): who could everimagine that his living room was full of miniatures of Graceland,posters of the King, etc. Once I started to step into these people’slife, it became obvious that there was a strong story that had to betold.
Your work not only portrays theAmerican fascination for Elvis, but the construction of the AmericanDream as an escape from reality. What can you tell us about this?
Yes, it is true that there isstill a strong American fascination in some parts of the world. Fromwhat I experienced in France, Switzerland and the United Kingdom,this fascination often has a link with social background. TheAmerican Dream often refers to popular culture, which can be themusic, the cinema, or the food, and appeals especially to the workingclass. Elvis is one of many examples, and he divides also theclasses: there are the ones who see him as a ridiculous symbol ofexcess and kitsch and the others who see him as a great musician whohad a great style. Although there is not doubt that he was one of themost iconic musicians of the prveious century, he was also criticizedand ridiculed. All the fans I have encountered come from variousbackgrounds, but they all share this strong fascination with a singerand a culture.
In that sense, I Called Her LisaMarie seems to wander between reality and fiction. Tell us, why didyou choose this way of storytelling?
The challenge in this story washow to photograph something that people have already seen so much.Elvis, and the notion of the American Dream has inspired many artistsbefore me. I was afraid of being too literal, and I didn’t want theproject to be categorized as either a social investigation of theElvis fans within the working class community of South Wales, or ahumorous project about people who dress up. This is why I used a widerange of emotions, from the tragic to the comic, giving littleinformation about the subjects. What interested me in the work isthat although it is 100% real, there is something different and alittle bit fictional which makes these people so special. Most ofthem are characters in the way they stage themselves and that is whatmakes them surreal.
Your body of work focuses on theexploration of particular lives inserted into our contemporarysociety. What attracts you to this kind of topic?
For me, taking pictures meansframing the reality. The tricky part is to figure out how you want toframe it, and why. I realized over the past few years that I havebeen drawn to looking at ordinary people and how they try to escapefrom everyday boredom. Elvis is only one example among many. Myprevious projects were looking at different characters such asburlesque dancers in the UK, my brother who left Paris to become ashepherd in the Alps, or more recently a very popular carnival inDunkerque, in the North of France.
I think we need to look at « positive» stories, or let’s say, « tender » stories as the news we aregetting from the media is getting worse and worse. Since January,there have been so many terrible disasters, from the terroristattacks in Nigeria, Kenya, France, and Tunisia, the plane crash inFrance, and the recent earthquake in Nepal, that it is important alsoto show other stories. Not because we don’t want to deal with thereality, but because we don’t want to become paranoid anddepressed. I guess that is what music, literature, or cinema does topeople; it helps them apprehend the reality and offer a differentpoint of view.
Are you currently working on a newproject? What are your plans for the rest of this year?
For the moment I am stilldedicated to this work, which is close to being finished, but stillongoing. I promised myself not to finish this work without going tothe Elvis week in Memphis which takes place every year in August. Itis the most important week dedicated to Elvis as it celebrates hisdeath and attracts hundreds of thousands of fans. I will hopefully gothis summer. I am also working on some exhibitions which are comingup during the Arles festival in July and the Diffusion festival inOctober in Cardiff. And lastly, I am working on a monograph which isdue in 2016.
My plans for the rest of the year are:work, travel in cheap buses, experiment, read, get my driving lesson,earn money, move to Brighton and keep photographing the beautifulworld we live in.
Clémentine Schneidermann (born 1991, in France) was awarded the PMH 2015 Grant New Generation Prize with her work I Called Her Lisa Marie, a photographic essay through which she portrays Elvis’ fans, focusing not on the mere fanaticism, but on how this has become a way of life and escape from reality. In conversation with PMH, she discusses the story behind the project, and her future plans.
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