When we first heard about Graceland Too—collector Paul McLeod’s homage to Elvis in Holly Springs, Mississippi—from New York-based photographer, Lauren Silberman, we knew we had to share. Located about 50 miles from Graceland proper, visiting Graceland Too is like entering someone’s dream-world populated solely by the King. Lauren was kind enough to share not only her photos but her take on a trip into the mind of an intense and focused collector.
Lauren Silberman, Photographer, please tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
I’m an artist who works primarily in photography. I’m also a teacher, a sister, a daughter, a New Yorker, a dancer, a runner, a yogi, a redhead, a jet-setter, a brat, and a romantic; I guess my point is that I’m lots of things to different people and all those things and more to myself. I’m constantly scrutinizing where I am and what my role is in different situations, which I think leads to the reason that I make art: the exploration.
I’ve always been interested in youth culture, subculture, and the culture people make for themselves. I have most recently spent a good deal of time shooting interiors of abandoned party spaces in Brooklyn. They are DIY spaces that are true labors of love, put together by different volunteers and artists who believe in making their own culture. The spaces are raw and handmade and the parties give so many artists an opportunity to perform and share their talents. The parties are also crazy, and I’m interested in looking at what’s left over.
I mean, shooting parties is fun, but it’s the after and the in-between that interest me most, and that’s what these images are about. I make images as a way of exploring the questions that I confront in my everyday life in an attempt to find meaning. Usually the exploration just presents more questions, but that’s what keeps it interesting to me.
So, you’ve been a traveling fiend lately. What drew you to Graceland Too?
Yes! I just returned from a road trip to New Orleans, which took me through Graceland. I have been dying to do that road trip to Graceland for about 20 years, ever since I went through a totally weird and random obsession with Elvis Presley in high school; I don’t know what started it, actually, because I was a depressed gothy-punk kid who listened to The Cure and Depeche Mode and Joy Division.
Anyway, I would check his recordings out of the library from school and listen to them over and over and over again on my cassette player… rewinding them and playing them back and rewinding them again. I became obsessed with Elvis on all levels; obsessed with his music, his films, and fascinated by the mania that was created around him (including my own—I mean, why was a teenage girl in Connecticut listening to Elvis songs on repeat in 1992?). So I think this interest in the mania is why I was so interested in seeing Graceland, Too. Paul McLeod, the owner and curator of Graceland Too, is the world’s biggest Elvis fan. And I was curious to see how his admiration for the King manifested itself.
How did you find out about Graceland Too?
It’s was all word of mouth. Before departing for the road trip through Memphis, my travel partner and I got some recommendations on places to go in and around Memphis, and Graceland Too was at the top of the list.
What is Graceland Too all about? I mean, isn’t Graceland enough!?!?
You can’t compare them. Graceland Too isn’t about Graceland at all. It’s certainly about Elvis, but it’s more about one man’s obsession and devotion to one thing. Paul has been collecting Elvis paraphernalia for close to 60 years.
He named his son after Elvis. He even chose his Elvis collection over his marriage. He claims that he would give his life if he could bring Elvis back to life. For me, it was about seeing how devoted one person could be to one thing—regardless of that thing. It was also about trying to grasp what it means to be a fan of something—particularly something with such significance in pop culture. Elvis was the first pop phenomenon to be surrounded by such mania and I’m fascinated by how it started and why.
You said you were nervous approaching Graceland Too. Is it scary?
It’s not really scary, but the building is a wild bright blue with black details, and all of the windows are blacked out. When my friend Marin, whom I was traveling with, approached the door, she claimed she was scared. It’s daunting and appears a little haunted when you approach it.
It’s situated on an innocuous suburban street a few blocks from the center of Holly Springs, Mississippi, a super cute southern town, so it definitely seems a little out of place. Paul allows visitors 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but it seemed weird to just knock on the door of a stranger’s house and expect to be let in. But Paul let us in, and after asking us where we were from and if we knew anyone in publishing (he offered to split the book deal on Graceland Too with us 50/50 if we could hook him up with a publisher), he didn’t stop talking for an hour-and-half.
He showed us details of the collection, pictures of his son dressed as Elvis, pictures of visitors in Elvis’ leather jacket, so many things! I never knew where to look because there were so much to look at!
What five words would best describe Graceland Too?
Cluttered, overwhelming, beautiful, intense, musty.
Have you had any recurring dreams about it? Nightmares?
Haha—I don’t really have recurring dreams—nor do I have nightmares. I do dream of being able to return someday and meet his son, Elvis Aaron Presley McLeod.
Do you hate Elvis now?
Why would I hate Elvis? I love him more than ever! Visiting Graceland and Graceland Too just reminded me how much I love him and his music. It was actually when we first got to Memphis and visited Sun Studios (our first stop there) that I got really excited. To stand in the studio where he recorded and hear “That’s All Right” (his first big hit) played through the sound system was so moving. I think Elvis’ early music is incredible, and to hear it in that context was totally magical. It’s so easy to take all of that for granted these days, but his music and his style was really revolutionary at the time.
Anything else you want to add?
The whole experience of visiting Graceland Too and Graceland got me thinking a lot about what it means to be a fan of something, and what a personal experience it is. In one exhibit at Graceland, there was a video showing people being interviewed outside of an Elvis convention, talking about their love for Elvis, and they were videos made within the last 15 years—and they were young people who never would have seen Elvis alive (like me)! Elvis still touches people.
But what was so revelatory for me was that as I was watching these people talk about their love of Elvis, I knew exactly what they were talking about, but also felt a strange possessiveness; my connection to Elvis is so personal; it’s mine. But I realize I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Each fan of Elvis (or Michael Jackson, or Madonna, or The Beatles, or any other cultural icon) has the capacity to feel an extremely personal connection to him. And it blows my mind that so many people can feel this sense of connection, admiration, and even love for a public figure, whether it be a pop star, political figure, or a religious figure that they don’t know personally. So I guess the whole experience got me excited to explore what it means to be a fan, and what kind of love that is. I’m still figuring out what the next step of this exploration is, but I am excited about where it has started.
Thanks Lauren! We look forward to hearing more about your adventures!