Books: Photographing Kings for a Day

By David Schonauer   Tuesday January 12, 2016

Elvis is in the building, figuratively speaking.

Then again, figuratively speaking, he never left us.

Photographer Erin Feinberg  came to this realization several years ago, on a trip to Memphis. Leaving town, she told the Memphis Flyer  recently, she saw a “whole bunch of people” with sideburns making their way into the city. It was the beginning of Elvis Week, when fans from around the globe make the pilgrimage to Graceland in the days leading up to August 16, the day Elvis supposedly died.

“I knew instantly that I had to document this scene,” she said. “A few years later, I returned, not really knowing fully what to expect. I have to say that I have rarely been welcomed so openly by a group of strangers. Through photographs, I wanted to convey the enduring parts of Elvis Presley's legacy.”

That she has, with her new book King for a Day  ( Kehrer Verlag), which features her portraits of Elvis tribute artists and fans dress like their idol.

The New York City-based freelance photographer, whose clients include Rolling Stone, PBS, Gibson Guitar and The New York Times, managed to capture the people behind the sparkling costumes and wigs while also showing their diversity. “They are everyone,” she told the Flyer. “They come from all walks of life, from across the globe, with a variety of outfits, songs to sing, and stories to share with whoever will listen. They are students, businessmen, actors, waiters, mechanics, attorneys ... you name it. Some dress up like the King on their days off, and others are full-time performers.”

Feinberg traveled to Elvis Week in 2005 and 2006 and set up a studio at the Holiday Inn, where the annual “Images of the King” contest is held. There she photographed and interviewed more than 100 people.

Her photographs are appropriately fun — the soft pink background she chose for the portraits is a match for Elvis’s famous Cadillac — but also sincere in their admiration for the impassioned fans. The AnOther  blog admires how the photographs paint “a contemporary portrait of fandom, and of the myriad and unique ways this strange phenomenon manifests itself.”

“Most importantly,” notes Feinberg at her website, the images and interviews “remind us that anyone can relate to Elvis Presley, perhaps because he encompassed the entire range of humanity during his lifetime. There is a little bit of Elvis inside each one of us and these subjects choose to wear it on their sleeve.”


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