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Arts and Entertainment

Grammy Museum Elvis Exhibit Turns Back Time

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The King swoons a young fan. Photo © Alfred Wertheimer.

21 can be a great year for just about anyone. Especially if that ‘anyone’ is Elvis.

Through March 28th, the Grammy Museum is hosting a photography exhibit showcasing the works of Alfred Wertheimer, as he travelled with Elvis from Memphis to New York City and all over America; as he rode along with Elvis from regional celebrity to national superstar. Lest we forget, Elvis purchased Graceland when he was 22 years old, making these black and while shots an inside peek at the moment before the moment.

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The Wertheimer collection, housed entirely on one of the museum’s lower floors, is a stunningly subtle portrait of a young man’s humbleness and ego, passion and disconnection, as he begins the journey that will lead him to become perhaps the most iconic American singer the world has ever known. There are several striking features to these photos, many of which should be new to even the most ardent Presley fans, not least of which is the startling representation of his pure youth and vitality. A hanging timeline reveals just how magnificent of a year Elvis had, jetsetting from movie sets to television appearances, and back on trains to overjoyed crowds of adoring fans. Yet through it all, Elvis never appears weary, and even in a particularly quiet moment where he is shirtless, listening to records with a young woman, he is never very unkempt. He hair still falls into his eyes and his suit may be (ironically) a shade too big, but the smile and sincerity remain, making him no less charming for his faults.

The result of this is a large handful of photographs that really showcase an intimacy in Elvis that is normally reserved for Priscilla. Instead, these images predate even her, and give rise to a shadowed Elvis in a back corridor stealing kisses from the waitress at the diner that morning, or simply holding the hands of a bespectacled young woman in New York City until she falls to pieces. This is the look at Elvis that has been clouded by time and poor choices, and is perhaps the most interesting part of the exhibit as a whole. For the young, The King may be little more than a social punchline, a portrait of excess that could make the man seem an ogre. For the older crowd who may have grown up watching Elvis on Steve Allen or anywhere else, Wertheimer’s photographs offer a real chance to reconnect with the boyish-faced crooner that may have been so important at one time or another. These photographs are short on the glitz and glamour that came to define the later part o Elvis’ life, but they are still radiant, captivating, and altogether unique.

The Alfred Wertheimer traveling Smithsonian exhibit is currently at the Grammy Museum downtown, and will run through March 28th of this year.