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Capturing The King

By Jennifer Amy Meyers - Lowell Sun, August 17, 2006 | People
It was his day off, but he couldn't resist. The King was in town, an opportunity too good for a young newspaper photographer to pass up.

He knew the "head guy" at the Honolulu International Center Arena and talked his way into a good seat.

The only restriction was that he could not move from the seat. No problem.

Waikiki native Art Otremba, whose passion for photography was ignited the day he received a Brownie Hawkeye box camera in the sixth grade, found himself staring down his lens at the pompadour, mutton chops, and bedazzled "American Eagle" white wool and gabardine jumpsuit of a legend in his prime, the King of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis Presley.

That night, Jan. 14, 1973, Presley performed one of his most famous shows, the historic "Aloha From Hawaii" concert. It was the first worldwide telecast live performance, beamed by satellite to Australia and Southeast Asia, shown on delay in 30 European countries and by tape on American television three months later. The show was eventually seen by more than 1.5 billion people in 40 countries.

Concert-goers gained entrance to the arena by donating to the Kui Lee Cancer Fund in memory of the Hawaiian songwriter who died from cancer in 1966 at the age of 34. More than $75,000 was raised that night.

"I stayed in my seat, used a long lens and just kept shooting," Otremba, 56, recalled in his Dracut home, days before today's 29th anniversary of Presley's death.

Because it was his day off from the Honolulu Advertiser, the state's morning paper, all of the treasured photos he shot that day are his property.

He got close-ups of the King crooning his signature tunes, handing his scarf off to a swooning young lady in the audience, strumming his guitar and shaking his hips like only he could. The trim 38-year-old Elvis strutting across the stage, a lei around his neck, looking directly into Otremba's lens, giving the crowd the "hang loose" sign with his right hand while his left hand was clutching a golden crown.

"Someone in the audience gave him the crown that they had made," said Otremba. "I was the only one to get a picture of him with the crown."

Otremba met and shot a lot of celebrities in his seven years at the Advertiser from Richard and Pat Nixon to Bill Cosby, Clare Boothe Luce and Prince Charles, but said that other than Carol Burnett and Louis Armstrong, he never came across a well-known figure as down-to-earth as Elvis Presley.

"He came to Hawaii often and was a real gentleman, a human being, not a snob" he said. "What you saw was what you got. I don't think he truly realized how big he was."

Otremba left his job at the Advertiser in 1977 after a dispute over whether he should be allowed to freelance in his off-duty time. He came to Massachusetts shortly after the Blizzard of 1978 to settle his aunt's estate, and bounced around shooting for United Press International and running his own photo business.

He settled in Dracut after meeting his wife, Roberta. They married in 1989.

"Working for a newspaper seeing all the death, fires, accidents, heads being chopped off, you become totally detached. Death means nothing" Otremba said.

Today, he sells cars at Ira Subaru in Danvers and shoots pictures for the Sierra Club and some New Hampshire inns, but don't ask to see his flash card.

"With digital photography you don't get he same resolution, the same detail," he said.

"Photographers today don't understand what photography is, shutter speed, what a wide-angle lens can do. They might have a good eye, but they don't understand the inner workings of a camera.

"With photography it is there or it isn't, you don't have a second chance, you can't move a tree," he added. "It is a dying art."

By Jennifer Amy Meyers - Lowell Sun

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