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News createt: 18-11-2010

Elvis at 21 photo-exhibit in Washington

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National Portrait Gallery offers "Elvis at 21: Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer," which features images of the idol before he hit it big

Photography forever changed the meaning of visual imagery--one no longer had to be an artist or craftsman to create a picture.

So, too, a rising young singer, Elvis Presley, made a similar impact on popular music.

The National Portrait Gallery has brought the two together in a show in which photojournalism records the moments leading up to that event.

The National Portrait Gallery's "Elvis at 21: Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer" visually records Presley's 1956 journey from unknown to idol.

Tagging along with Elvis back then was a 26-year-old freelance photographer, Alfred Wertheimer, also at the start of his career.

Wertheimer's 40 images follow a simple plot: a hero moving toward his destiny.

Scene one: March 17, New York City: Elvis alone in the dark under the Warwick hotel canopy. Elvis on sofa reading fan mail. Elvis from the rear, onstage, his famous pelvis gyrating in clothes from a Memphis store that sold primarily to African-Americans.

Scene two: June 30, Richmond, for performance at the Mosque: Elvis charming a waitress at dinner, sitting in a diner before the show with another girl, kissing a girl in the stairwell after the show.

Scene three: July 1, New York City: Girl with white gloves and proper white dress greeting Elvis outside a cab. "The Steve Allen Show" live. Screaming girls after the show.

Scene four: July 3, New York City to Memphis: The long train ride home.

Finale: July 4, Memphis: The hero has returned. Elvis escorted by cops to the stage. Mobs cheering. Elvis in the spotlight with Wertheimer capturing the starburst of spotlights over his head in the picture of a lifetime.

It took less than 100 days for this trip from anonymity to amazing.

What was now musical history was soon to be reflected in changes in American history.

The pictures that Wertheimer took show Elvis offstage in a simpler age.

One of the last shots is Elvis getting off the train before it reaches the main terminal in Memphis, so that he saves an hour getting home. He is waving goodbye to the conductor and getting directions from a passer-by.

This rural scene would be one of the last in which Elvis would be alone.

Most poignant is a scene of exactly what the fact of "separate but equal" society looked like in the '50s. In one of the stops on the trip back home to Memphis, Elvis sits at a counter in a diner while a black woman stands waiting at the other end.

Elvis, with his strong links to African-American music, would be part of the massive social change yet to come.

The bottom-line best way to enjoy this show is to download some Elvis songs of this time to listen to while walking through the exhibit.

For "The Steve Allen Show," Elvis sang "Hound Dog" to a basset hound on a pedestal. "Love Me Tender" can be played over and over again with scenes of Elvis loving women. He recorded "Don't Be Cruel" before he left New York for that seven- hour train journey back to Memphis.

There would be so many others, but this was the beginning in 1956.

There is also "I Want You, I Need You, I Love You," which caused pandemonium when he sang it on television during that tour.

It's the one some visitors will sing to themselves when they see this exhibit.

Source: Sheila