Elvis photographic exhibition in Sydney, Australia

"Long Live the King"

Photographs by John Savage



Exhibition Launch: 5th August 2004 6pm-8pm Exhibition Extends until 24th August 2004 Blender Gallery, 16 Elizabeth Street Paddington

On Thursday July 15th 2004, a new exhibition opens at Paddington’s Blender Gallery. ‘Long Live the King’ is a selection of images from an on-going project exploring devotion to the memory of Elvis Presley, by John Savage.

John Savage is a documentary photographer based in Wellington, New Zealand. John is a member of the photo agency, Exposed, which is a small group of New Zealand photographers, whose aim is promoting their personal work and the medium’s profile in New Zealand and internationally.

Info and images from Exposed, can be viewed at their website: www.exposed.co.nz

Utilizing his background in research, writing and photography, John’s particular interest is in searching out unusual individuals, events and sub-cultures. His focus is on subjects that are international rather than location- or culture-specific. John also has an interest in landscape imagery including urban environments and the way natural environments are altered by human intervention.

Throughout the exhibition ‘Long Live the King’, one recurring theme is the dreamlike nature of Elvis devotion. This is perhaps most obvious in the nature of the world inhabited by some of the most devoted disciples and the “Elvii” (impersonators or “tribute artists”) who have come to represent a kind of Elvis priesthood.

Similarly, the world inhabited by Elvis himself had a dreamlike quality, ranging from the darkened, green shag pile interiors of Graceland to the oddities of street life in downtown Memphis, Presley’s hometown. Moreover, Elvis’ memory and life is intimately tied to the American Dream and all that comes with that cultural package: devotion to God, country and celebrity.

And for the most devoted fans, Elvis is the centre of their dreams: a symbol of hope and goodness. Another recurring theme is the religious nature of Elvis devotion – complete with shrines, ceremonies, relics (memorabilia), and priests (Elvii). Indeed some academics have suggested that Elvis worship has all the hallmarks of a new religion.

Majority of the images were shot during “Death Week” in Memphis in 2002, making “Death Week” the focus of the exhibition. (Officially “Elvis Week” is held each year in Memphis to celebrate Elvis’s life. It is held in mid August on the anniversary of his death and many thousands of fans from all around the world attend. Memphis locals cynically refer to it as “Death Week”).

Some supporting images were shot in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Australia. John is continually fuelling his project and further material will be gathered in Memphis this year.

‘Long Live the King’ photographs by John Savage will open on Thursday July 15th at Blender Gallery, Paddington at 6pm. The exhibition will run until August 3rd.


Notes on images

#1 Danny Boy Squire

This image was shot at the Peabody Hotel, Downtown Memphis. The hotel is a focal point for many of the fans during Death Week. An informal but (to the fans) well known hierarchy of Elvii exists and Danny Boy is one of the more respected members of the priesthood (and he knows it).

The fans exhibit is a kind of ambivalence towards the tribute artists (who never, themselves, use the term “impersonator”). The best (good looking, accomplished performers) are generally respected. The worst are frowned about.

#2 Elvis Bombay

Graceland Plaza is a shopping/tourist centre across the road from Graceland mansion. It is owned by Elvis Presley Enterprises who also manage Graceland. During Death Week an almost continuous stream of Elvis tribute artists perform in a large tent at the Plaza. Elvis Bombay was wondering about (with his friend Carl) looking dejected.

He complained to me that he had not been allowed to perform alongside the other artists. None of those in charge of the performance list could explain to him why he was banned.

#3 Mobile Graceland

In an effort to reach as many fans as possible, Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE) have built Mobile Graceland: a huge trailer unit full of Elvis memorabilia. It was parked at Graceland Plaza during Death Week 2002 prior to an extensive tour of North America. One of the challenges facing EPE is the aging demographic of established Elvis fans.

(Source: Blender Gallery, 1 August 2004)

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