A French photographer has been photographing all the Elvises at the Porthcawl …

The late great American stand-up comic Bill Hicks once made a good point about Elvis, or rather his legion of devoted followers.

“What strikes me as odd about The King,” he’d say, “is that all the impersonators choose to imitate that later Vegas period Elvis, rather than the young, cool, slim GI years.”

And he was right – look at any Presley disciple in this country or the next and they’ll almost invariably be aping that diamanté jumpsuit paunch, the huge mutton chops, an entire Cash Converters’ worth of gold bling and gravity-defying jet black quiff.

Maybe it’s because the generation which still hankers most for those glory, glory days now prefer the comfort of a cheeseburger to looking gym-session svelte.

But it’s inarguably that unfaltering dedication to their idol – regardless of advancing age or increasing waistline – and the countless hours of musical enjoyment and escapism he’s gifted them which makes Elvisites such utterly fascinating characters to watch.

Pattie, Porthcawl 2014 – “I photographed Pattie and loved everything about her. She even had socks with Elvis written on them”

Just ask Clémentine Schneidermann, the 23-year-old French documentary photographer who, a few years ago, fell for that infectious enthusiasm upon visiting the now infamous annual Elvis Festival which takes place in the incongruously un-Graceland-like setting of Porthcawl each summer.

“They’re all such personalities that it’s almost impossible not to take their picture,” says the Parisian-born snapper who recently graduated from the University of South Wales in Newport.

“The main thing that struck me, though, was the fact that, no matter where you might be – Wales or the US – when you’re in the company of these people you really could be anywhere.

Our pictures from last year’s festival


WATCH: The King perform Suspicious Minds in Las Vegas 1970




The King performs Suspicious Minds


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“If I didn’t caption the pictures I took I think you’d struggle to pinpoint which side of the Atlantic we were on at the time.

“I liked the fact that here was this huge community of kindred spirits which, despite never having met, all had this common bond, a shared passion which shaped them and how they live their lives.”

But, while it’s easy to view these collection of wannabes, should-have-beens and likely-never-will-bes as rather sad caricatures, it takes a keen and sympathetic eye to eke out the real souls underneath the hairsprayed bouffants, gold lamé get-up and saucer-sized shades.

Steve, Newport, 2014 -“I met Steve on the street in Newport and spotted his TCB necklace (‘TCB’ is Elvis’ motto, meaning ‘Taking care of business’).”

However, I couldn’t help wondering how easy it was persuading them to sit for their portrait given how much ridicule their particular lifestyle sometimes comes in for.

“I find that, as long as I explain what my intentions are and that I’m not out to make fun of them, then they’re usually happy to be photographed,” says Clémentine.

“It’s often quite difficult, though, if only because you usually have to grab someone as they walk by or disturb them while they’re standing there watching a concert.

“You have to take them away from what they’re doing for about five minutes, which can be harder than it sounds.”

LOOK: The masked singing hoaxer who brought Elvis back from the grave

Like the time she saw Johnny – the heavily tattooed, sovereign-ring-festooned man in the creased white suit and blood-red neckerchief who resembled the fantastically leathery American character actor Harry Dean Stanton… had he grown up around the Pillgwenlly docks rather than the corn fields of Kentucky.

“Oh, he was amazing, I couldn’t believe it when I saw him,” she laughs.

“I was like, ‘I have to ask him, there’s no way I can miss my chance to photograph him’.

“So I just went up to him and asked if I could take his picture in front of this caravan that was nearby and he just replied, ‘Aye, okay’,” she smiles, coming full circle on her earlier point regarding the universality of Elvis’ followers.

Johnny, Porthcawl, 2014 – “Johnny isan amazing character. He has Elvis tattooed on his hand and also on his neck.”

The Welsh ones seem to have a definite identity of their own, though.

“There’s just something about them that sets them apart a little, probably when they open their mouths.

“All of a sudden this strong accent comes out and there’s no doubt about where they’re from.

“The red dragon tattoos are a big giveaway too.

“Not to mention the ability to drink,” she jokes.

Clémentine first crossed paths with this phenomenon while studying in Vevey, Switzerland, where The King still has many ardent worshippers.

“You’d have Elvis impersonators who didn’t speak a word of English, except when they’d start belting out one of his songs.

“Next thing you know they’d be word perfect.”

Classic King – Elvis with wife Priscilla Presley and Tom Jones in the ’70s

Suddenly, I’m imagining someone delivering a Xerox-accurate rendition of Heartbreak Hotel, but rather than Presley’s trademarked slur of ‘thangewverymuch ladies and gentlemen’ at the end, the tune’s signed off instead with a jarringly stentorian-sounding ‘Danke schön meine Damen und Herren’.

“No, they knew how to say all the stuff in between too,” explains Clémentine, who’s just been showing off her King-tastic work – a project entitled I Called Her Lisa-Marie – to glowing reviews at the recent New York Portfolio Review, the third ever annual consortium of those in the global photographic community, all of whom converge on the Big Apple to make new contacts, swap tips and spark fresh ideas.

READ: Porthcawl Elvis Festival: How did it all get started?

“I’ve ended up becoming a bit of an Elvis specialist as a result of it this, you know,” she adds. But she admits that, given the chance, she’d much rather lose the rhinestones and listen to The Man In Black, Johnny Cash.

“Mainly, I just like a seeing how happy Elvis makes people – that, in turn, makes me happy too.

“Basically they’re just normal, everyday eccentrics, who live ordinary lives, go to work, have families – they could be any one of us.

“Except to them Elvis is a religion, the one thing that keeps them going and able to cope with the daily grind.

The King’s suit dries on a radiator at a house in Cwmbran

“With some people it’s cars, others video games – here, though, it’s The King.”

Inspired by Parisian street life, she first took up photography at the age of 16.

“I just enjoyed meeting people, observing life, staying quiet, hanging back and just watching what went on,” she says.

“I like finding the little stories that might be there just under the surface, that crazy poetry that exists inside everyone when you look hard enough.

“Am I sounding too Parisian now?” she laughs.

But, despite all that Gallic allure on her own door step, the call of Wales’ newest city proved too irresistible.

“The photography courses in Newport are very well regarded, all over the world.

“And the documentary photography one is by far the most famous.”

Believe it or not, but it was Tom Jones who once gave Elvis some very important advice

And how much inspiration has Newport provided her in the two years she’s lived there?

“Well, it’s hard to say many nice things about the city centre, but the further you move away from it – along the River Usk towards Caerleon, for example – the more beautiful it gets.

“I see a lot of sad faces around the city too, so I try to shoot them in a different way, find that hidden bit of happiness.

“It’s no different in Paris, walk around there and you won’t see anyone smiling or laughing.

“Sit on the subway and no one talks to or looks at each other and I suppose it can be hard place in which to live.

“Maybe happiness just doesn’t exist, who knows,” she shrugs.

“At least when you’re on a bus in Newport strangers actually want to start conversations with you.”

Clémentine Schneidermann, in front of the camera for once

A self-confessed ‘hippy kid’ at a time when digital cameras were still in their infancy, she continues to cling to the old way of doing things.

“When I was growing up the digital pictures you’d get were really crap, film was much better.

“As a result I’ve stuck with analog over the years.”

Doesn’t she find that a bit limiting, though, in terms of what she can do with her prints?

“Exactly, I really like the limitations imposed by using film.

“I enjoy developing it in a dark room and not being able to tinker too much with the finished product.

“That way you’ve only got that moment when it’s you, your lens and the subject.

“So you’ve got to try to make it count.”

  • If you want to be photographed by Clémentine you can contact her via email at clementineschneidermann@gmail.com. Alternatively, to see more of her work go to here

Article source: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/whats-on/arts-culture-news/elvis-porthcawl-presleys-9064947