I Called Her Lisa Marie
“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 2015 Grant New Generation Prize which recognises you as one of the most promising contemporary photographers. Being so young, what are your thoughts and expectations with respect to this recognition?
It is of course a great honor for me to receive this award and also very important. When you do personal projects it is difficult sometimes to understand why you do it, and if it will interest people. This award means a lot for me as it shows that the work can reach people’s emotions. Being a young photographer in 2015 can sometimes feels hopeless: we are told that there is no funding, and that the market is saturated. This is why organizations such as the Photographic Museum of Humanity, who are willing to help emerging photographers through monetary prizes and exposure, are so important.
What first drew you to analyze and photograph these subjects’ lives?
I became interested in Elvis fans a few years ago, when I was living and studying in Switzerland. I was struggling with the lack of originality and the normality of everything. When I found this fan club close to where I was living it became a fantastic way-out. I loved the fact that these people had ordinary lives, but during the weekend they would go to Elvis concerts, dress up and praise their idol. One of the first people I photographed back in 2010 was selling cigarettes at a train station in Bulle (a rural town in the French-speaking region): who could ever imagine that his living room was full of miniatures of Graceland, posters of the King, etc. Once I started to step into these people’s life, it became obvious that there was a strong story that had to be told.
Your work not only portrays the American fascination for Elvis, but the construction of the American Dream as an escape from reality. What can you tell us about this?
Yes, it is true that there is still a strong American fascination in some parts of the world. From what I experienced in France, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, this fascination often has a link with social background. The American Dream often refers to popular culture, which can be the music, the cinema, or the food, and appeals especially to the working class. Elvis is one of many examples, and he divides also the classes: there are the ones who see him as a ridiculous symbol of excess and kitsch and the others who see him as a great musician who had a great style. Although there is not doubt that he was one of the most iconic musicians of the prveious century, he was also criticized and ridiculed. All the fans I have encountered come from various backgrounds, but they all share this strong fascination with a singer and a culture.
In that sense, I Called Her Lisa Marie seems to wander between reality and fiction. Tell us, why did you choose this way of storytelling?
The challenge in this story was how to photograph something that people have already seen so much. Elvis, and the notion of the American Dream has inspired many artists before me. I was afraid of being too literal, and I didn’t want the project to be categorized as either a social investigation of the Elvis fans within the working class community of South Wales, or a humorous project about people who dress up. This is why I used a wide range of emotions, from the tragic to the comic, giving little information about the subjects. What interested me in the work is that although it is 100% real, there is something different and a little bit fictional which makes these people so special. Most of them are characters in the way they stage themselves and that is what makes them surreal.
Your body of work focuses on the exploration of particular lives inserted into our contemporary society. What attracts you to this kind of topic?
For me, taking pictures means framing the reality. The tricky part is to figure out how you want to frame it, and why. 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. My previous projects were looking at different characters such as burlesque dancers in the UK, my brother who left Paris to become a shepherd in the Alps, or more recently a very popular carnival in Dunkerque, in the North of France.
I think we need to look at « positive » stories, or let’s say, « tender » stories as the news we are getting from the media is getting worse and worse. Since January, there have been so many terrible disasters, from the terrorist attacks in Nigeria, Kenya, France, and Tunisia, the plane crash in France, and the recent earthquake in Nepal, that it is important also to show other stories. Not because we don’t want to deal with the reality, but because we don’t want to become paranoid and depressed. I guess that is what music, literature, or cinema does to people; it helps them apprehend the reality and offer a different point of view.
Are you currently working on a new project? What are your plans for the rest of this year?
For the moment I am still dedicated to this work, which is close to being finished, but still ongoing. I promised myself not to finish this work without going to the Elvis week in Memphis which takes place every year in August. It is the most important week dedicated to Elvis as it celebrates his death and attracts hundreds of thousands of fans. I will hopefully go this summer. I am also working on some exhibitions which are coming up during the Arles festival in July and the Diffusion festival in October in Cardiff. And lastly, I am working on a monograph which is due 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 beautiful world 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.