// Born in Adelaide, Australia, Shelby is a documentary and street photographer based in Bristol. Her project “One Night with Elvis” is a documentary of one of the quirky and entertaining Elvis festivals in the U.K., with impersonators doing their best impressions of their rock and roll idol.
Shelby fell in love with the power of photography when she was given her first camera at 9 years old, a Kodak disc camera. Later she studied photography and photographic practices at every opportunity and went on to gain a BA(Hons) in documentary photography at the University of Wales College, Newport, where she spent time exploring ideas of lost childhood and loneliness. She was awarded 4th place in the Ian Parry Award in 2004 for a series of work titled “Baby Doll” about child beauty pageants in the USA. One of the images from this series was also included in The Telegraph’s Travel Photographer of the year exhibition in 2004.
After taking time off to raise her children as a single parent, Shelby is returning to photography and rediscovering her voice. She is currently working with young drag performers for a long term project that explores ideas around gender, identity and belonging.
“Art enable us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
What draws you to the arts?
“Both creating and viewing art brings me a sense of freedom. Being able to express thoughts and feelings and then to communicate those feelings with others, makes us feel understood. In life we experience so much division of thought and emotion, and art pulls things back together.“
What do you like best about photographing people and events, such as these Elvis impersonators at the Elvis festival?
“I have loved photography and people watching for as long as I can remember, and I am constantly fascinated by the people around me. I have always known I was an outsider, always just on the edge, looking in at other people’s lives. I feel compelled to document their moments of joy and beauty and freedom of expression, and being able to elevate their voices gives me hope. And just for a while, I can be a part of their world.“
Elvis impersonator events are popular around the world. Shelby took these photographsat The Elvies, a large award show for Elvis Tribute artists in Porthcawl, Wales. The singer-actors perform two songs each and are then judged by a panel of judges on their singing skills, their appearance and their performance. The UK’s largest Elvis festival is the Harbor Lights Elvis Festival, which is organised in Bristol by Elvis fans Lisa and Paul Phillips.
Many of Shelby´s projects are made during events where “tribes” of people come together, from beauty pageants, burlesque competitions and dog shows to Elvis festivals. “Making work like this gives me the opportunity to meet people and be in places I wouldn’t ordinarily be, and I am able to explore ideas of identity and belonging to a tribe, of ‘fitting in’,” she says.
Shelby has documented the festival over two years and the images we are showing are part of a larger series documenting Elvis fans. Head to her website and Instagram pages to see more. We certainly look forward to seeing her documentary of this and other events continue to evolve.
Some images may be cropped for layout. Click on the photos to see the full image.
All photos © SHELBY ALEXANDER
To see more of his photography visit Shelby´s Instagram page and her website.