The most erotic, sexiest picture ever taken in the whole world? You’ll get a chance to see for yourself as the photography exhibit called "Elvis at 21" visits the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (USA). The exhibit will highlight 56 dramatic 1956 photos of Elvis Presley on the brink of international superstardom -- including several intimate images taken in Richmond. The black-and-white photographs taken by Alfred Wertheimer show a young Elvis just as his career began but before he was a recognizable rock-and-roll icon.
"The exhibition includes images taken here in June of 1956 of Elvis leaving Richmond's train station, riding in a taxi, having breakfast at the Jefferson Hotel, eating -- unrecognized -- at the hotel’s lunch counter, waiting backstage and performing on-stage during two shows at the Mosque, and stealing a steamy kiss in a Mosque hallway,” said Alex Nyerges, director of the VMFA.
“Elvis at 21” will run at the VMFA from Dec. 24, 2011 to March 18, 2012 and is the first national traveling show of Wertheimer's photographs. He was hired by RCA Victor in 1956 to shoot promotional images of Elvis, who had just been signed to record for the label. Wertheimer's images provide viewers with a look at Elvis before he exploded onto the rock-and-roll scene.
Wertheimer was given total access to Elvis on the road, backstage, in concert, in the recording studio and at home in Memphis. Shortly after Wertheimer had completed his assignment, "Colonel" Tom Parker, Elvis's manager, restricted contact with his star.
"Henri Cartier-Bresson was known for photographing what he called the 'decisive moment,' that moment when everything falls into place," says Wertheimer. "But I was more interested in the moments before or after the decisive moment."
In 1996, Richmond Magazine’s Harry Kollatz Jr. wrote a follow-up feature on a cover photograph the magazine ran Oct. 1995 of Elvis touching tongues of a young woman on the stairs backstage at the Mosque (now the Landmark Theater) in 1956.
In an August Vanity Fair article about the exhibition, Wertheimer gave the details behind the steamy-kiss photograph taken at Richmond's Mosque. He said he lost track of Elvis backstage at one point. He then spotted him at the end of a hallway standing with a girl he had met on the train from New York. The two were in silhouette under a 50-watt bulb. Wertheimer began shooting, moving closer to the couple all the while.
"I'm on the landing,” Wertheimer said to Vanity Fair, “and she finally gets around to saying, 'And I bet you can't kiss me, Elvis.' And she sticks out her tongue, and he says, 'I bet you I can' … And he finally consummates the kiss. While all of this was going on, the other acts were onstage, and I started hearing, 'We want Elvis! We want Elvis!' So he comes out from that back area, and he's waiting in the wings to go onstage."
The “Mystery Woman,” Barbara Gray, will celebrate Elvis’s birthday on January 8, 2012 at VMFA with a birthday cake and book signing from 1-3 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.