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|THE ELVIS CULT
March 10, 2016 - The Sydney Morning Herald / Ararat Rural City Council / Elvis Express Radio
Each year on August 16, a throng of faithful mourners gather in Melbourne cemetery to commemorate the death of their idol: Elvis Presley. They are dressed in leather jackets,
some with their hair greased back, most with large bunches of flowers, striking sultry poses in worship of the American star. It was 1985 when photographer Polixeni Papapetrou first
encountered this annual ritual and was drawn to document the near-religious-scale cult.
Her series Elvis Immortal, which charts these earnest pilgrims over a 15 year period in black and white square format, is on show at Ararat Regional art gallery, Victoria.
Papapetrou, whose photography explores the relationship between history, contemporary culture and identity, initially befriended the Elvis fans, and was invited in to their homes –
some of which were replicas of Graceland – where she documented their dometic shrines, collections of artefacts and impersonation performances.
Elvis Immortal is a fascinating study of fandom and the emergence of the popular cult. Her photographs are respectful to the fans, yet also acknowledge the pathos of their worship.
"Elvis Immortal is not a sentimental journey down 'Memory Lane' but a contemporary exposition of popular culture in its desire for a community of faith, grace and immortality," Ararat
Regional Gallery stated.
Papapetrou has been drawn to documenting cult-like cultural enclaves since the early 1980s. From the cult of Elvis, her photographic work has explored the subculture of Marilyn
Monroe impersonators, circus performers and body builders.
Elvis Immortal is presented as part of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival's Cultural Program Project Series 2016 and the 2016 Ararat Jailhouse Rock Festival. It is on at
Ararat Regional Gallery until March 27
In 1985 Polixeni Papapetrou began photographing fans, mourners and impersonators of Elvis Presley. Her series 'Elvis Immortal' documents a 15 year journey which observes the
cult of Elvis in Melbourne and registers the pathos of the dedicated men and women who zealously keep his memory alive.
Papapetrou has encountered many fans each year on the occasion of Elvis’ death (16 August 1977) at the Melbourne General Cemetery. An imposing memorial was erected in the
cemetery, attracting the faithful mourners who allowed Papapetrou to record their homage to the American star. She met youths with greased back hair striking poses of sultry but
eroticised melancholy, families with flowers, even individuals who prayed to Elvis or contemplated his image in reverence for his tragic decline.
Papapetrou sometimes followed the fans to their homes often full of Elvis paraphernalia constituting domestic shrines and showing an earnest enthusiasm for the design of the
fifties, sixties or seventies. The artefacts crammed into these houses seemed consecrated by Elvis’ memory accompanying the iconic images of Elvis which often have an almost
religious status in the adoration of the Memphis idol.
Other fans rehearsed the magic songs with imitative performances, strutting the stage of a personal fantasy of white jump suit or velvet and metallic jacket, emulating the
theatricality of the musical genius in the demonstrative gestures for which he is still almost universally famous. These walking facsimiles also sometimes inhabit houses built in the
manner of Gracelands, the legendary home of Elvis.
Papapetrou’s photograph are neither a tribute nor a direct part of the Elvis cult; but even less are they a send-up of the sincere people who have taken her into their confidence.
The photographs are an artistic witnessing of a popular cult, a kind of spontaneous religion emerging from an area of popular culture and often ordinary aspirations. 'Elvis Immortal'
is not a sentimental journey down ‘Memory Lane’ but a contemporary exposition of popular culture in its desire for a community of faith, grace and immortality.
'Elvis Immortal' is presented as part of the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival‘s Cultural Program Project Series 2016 and the 2016 Ararat Jailhouse Rock Festival.