Today I’d like to share part of my life story that I rarely talk about… my relationship with Elvis Presley. This story is a large part of what inspired me do this shoot. When I saw that Lauren (one of my favorite models) was a big fan of Priscilla Presley, I just knew that we had to bring this vision to life. Lauren absolutely knocked it out of the park. We started planning this shoot a couple of months before Lisa Marie passed away and felt it even more timely now to honor Priscilla. Alright, here’s my story…I'll post photos as we go.
As a wedding and family photographer in the Springfield, MO area, I often get to witness and be part of my clients' love stories. Since my photography studio is based in Branson, I also get to meet travelers from all over North America (a sweet reminder of my childhood trips with my Mom, Dad and Brother).
I was brought up on a strong dose of 50’s music and rock and roll which quickly formed my love for nostalgia. My mother has always been an avid Elvis fan and to this day, hearing his music still brings me back to childhood and feelings of peace flood my mind. I’m so thankful to her for introducing me to the music I love today.
Most of you know that I was born and raised in Canada and my immediate family still lives there to this day. When you consider that Graceland is 1300 miles away from my hometown and back then there were no cell phones or GPS, it would make sense that my family would be too apprehensive to make the journey to Memphis. The distance didn’t stop my parents though. When I was about seven, they finally decided it was time to take a trip to Graceland…..by car.
The journey took us close to three days with my brother and I playing nintendo on a tiny tv plugged into the cigarette lighter in the backseat. Since it was the “safest vehicle” aka a boat, we took the lincoln town car the whole way there. The doors were so heavy that my little hands could hardly open them and I still remember the smell of the grey leather inside.
Graceland was the first place we visited when we rolled into Memphis; I’m not even sure we went to the hotel first. I held my mom’s hand as her eyes welled up with tears of joy and gratitude and I knew that something significant was happening. I felt God in this place but also hope, promise and excitement. It felt like something big was about to happen.
Trips to Memphis became an annual thing for us, eventually with my Dad and brother taking their own separate vacation while my mom and I drove to Memphis and then went on to see my Great Aunt in Mississippi. On our journey to Mamaw’s mouse, we would always get lost in the dark on windy backroads with only written directions to go off of. We never did figure out which chicken house we were supposed to turn off at but I would navigate using a giant paper map and my mom would drive. We were a tag team and somehow we always made it where we were supposed to go.
After the first year of traveling to Memphis, we started coming back for what the locals called “Elvis Week” aka a week of concerts and celebrations leading up to an all-night candlelight vigil on the eve of Elvis’ death. For one night only, they closed the street in front of Graceland and people sat in circles jamming with their guitars, painting murals on the concrete and embracing friends that they only got to see once a year.
Everyone was united by the love they felt for Elvis’ music. It was magical and almost indescribable. God was there. This was also the only night that guests were allowed to walk through the gates of Graceland, up the driveway and to the burial sites with only candles to light our way. The driveway near the burial site was lined with photos, floral displays and elaborate artwork from all over the world. The graves were absolutely covered in flowers and teddy bears and you would often have to wait in line for hours just to get up to the house. We would stay up all night with our friends, laughing and having the best time. This was always my favorite night.
We quickly made friends that came to Memphis from all over the world and we would reconnect with them annually. Then, when I was about 14, I developed a crush on a charismatic young man and we became penpals and would see one another every summer, although usually we were dating other people. He was unlike any of the boys I had met at school or in musical theater. We developed a lovely friendship and by the time I was 19, I left my home in Canada and moved to America to be closer to him. Moving was the biggest adjustment I had ever made in my life but it was also exciting. The hardest part was being way from my family. My mom and I had always been best friends and I had never been away from her for very long as I still lived at home.
I spent my first two years in the states being very homesick but I was also very happy. I had to learn how to take care of a house, clean and do laundry. I also had to learn what it meant to be in a relationship with another human as I had never been in a serious relationship before. At this time in my life, I honestly believed that my role as a woman was to be whoever “I thought” that he wanted me to be. Truthfully, I didn’t even know who I was. I was a boundary-less woman, constantly people pleasing and fearing rejection. I never felt worthy and I always feared that if I wasn’t perfect, he would leave so I kept pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
I have a lot of compassion for that girl now. She was doing her best and didn’t realize that there was another way to live. Although I was still finding my identity, that still didn’t keep me from having fun and making wonderful memories. Looking back, it was such an innocent time filled with laughter, giggles and simple moments like being chased around the house and having pillow fights. I can look back on those memories fondly now although I couldn’t for many years. God has done a lot of healing in my heart.
As things often do when you are very young and lacking identity, the relationship eventually ended and it felt like my world did too. Over time, however, I found love again and during the 6 years I was single, I also found my identity. I learned how to set healthy boundaries, break free from codependance and to love myself. I also found God. None of this was easy but it was absolutely worth it.I’ve learned to lean into pain because that’s usually where the greatest gifts come from. Maybe it sounds cliche but I am a firm believer that love, God and time can heal all wounds. Sometimes it takes a lot longer than we want and the uncertainty is agonizing but God’s timing is always better than our own.
When I was preparing for this photoshoot, I noticed that there are almost no photos of Priscilla alone when she was young. I started to wonder whether Priscilla also felt the need to surrender her identity to become who she thought Elvis wanted her to be. During this photoshoot, I really wanted to give Priscilla the spotlight she deserves and to highlight her strength and beauty. Lauren did an incredible job in every aspect from the wardrobe to the makeup. I can’t imagine anyone else modeling as Priscilla. A big thank you to Kelsey from @kkdbeautycafe for creating such big hair for us!
Before we finish this story, I want to share that I have found my love for Elvis music again. I’m back to the place where listening to his music makes me feel like a child and brings back a sense of warmth and love. I never thought I would find it again. More than just a legend, Elvis loved God and adored people. He would give you the shirt off his back and you could almost hear that in his voice. He had a mischievous spirit and of course, darkness and grief as well like any other human. He did not belong only to himself but he gave himself away to the world to brighten the lives of so many.
I am forever grateful for this section of my life and I would not change it for the world. I hope and pray that these photos bring you back to a simpler time and that you can feel the love we’ve put in every picture. Thank you for coming along on this journey with me.