Elvis Presley will probably forever be considered the King of Rock and Roll. I mean, the man has almost 99,000 Twitter followers, and he passed away 29 years before Twitter began. An estimated 85,000 people impersonate him. But after learning about the free Elvis photography exhibit at Capital University’s Schumacher Gallery, I was skeptical. Rhinestone-studded visions of fist pumps and girdled velvet filled my head. Haven’t we seen all of Elvis there is to see? I headed to Bexley anyway, and was treated to a raw glimpse of the man before the pelvis.
Elvis at 21: Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer contains 56 photographs (most of them 36x48 pigment prints) that were taken during one week in 1956. Wertheimer was a 26-year-old freelance photographer from Brooklyn who had never heard of Elvis, and Elvis could still sit alone at a drugstore counter without getting mobbed. The black-and-white images were shot in close range, and rarely used flash. As evocative as the photos were the anecdotes pinned alongside them.
“I guess he felt that someone should be photographing him because one of these days he was going to be famous,” Wertheimer said. “People asked me later on, ‘What was so different about Elvis?’ I didn’t know at the time, but I would soon understand that first of all, he made the girls cry and second, he permitted closeness.”
Elvis was a hopeless flirt and a wicked dazzler — but he was talented and fearless. This show made me realize that, in spite of all the executives ordering him how to be a star, he defied them and became an icon.
Elvis at 21 was developed by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service with support from The History Channel. It debuted at the GRAMMY Museum in Los Angeles on January 8, 2010 (Elvis’ 75th birthday) and has been touring throughout the country. The exhibit will be on display at Schumacher Gallery until April 27.