Memphis wasn’t the first place on my mind when I sat down to write this morning, but after looking at the negatives of Graceland left on top of the scanner on my desk, I couldn’t entertain the idea of sweet potatoes, smoky hummus, rice bowls or other recent happenings in the kitchen. Instead, I was shuttled back to the near two weeks spent last summer trip in Tennessee.
I couldn’t help it. The black-and-white photo of Elvis’ pool I shot last summer reminded me of the humid July day we spent immersed in his life and the objects that once surrounded him. It was my first trip to Memphis and to Graceland. I’ve been an Elvis fan (his early Sun Sessions and Gospel recordings in particular) since I was in second grade when I went with my friend Stephanie’s house after school one day. Her mom was in the living room listening to music and crocheting a sweater or maybe a hat. A stack of vinyl records leaned against the stereo and I remember hearing Elvis’ voice in a way that I hadn’t before. His voice was haunting and sultry. I’m sure I had heard Elvis sing before but standing there in the middle of their peachy orange and brown living room, I felt like hearing music for the first time. The metal crochet needles clicked away as Stephanie pulled on my sailor shirt to follow her down the hallway.
Graceland was a special sort of flashy madness. The same way The King himself could be on stage. It was part theme park, part time capsule, part mausoleum. The later is what interested me. I wanted to capture every detail with my camera but couldn’t. My camera was loaded with slow film and we weren’t allowed to use flash so shooting indoors wasn’t an option. I tried to hold my breath and casually lean my body against the green shag wall trailing down from the kitchen overlooking the sunken living room and down into the basement. As expected, the interior shots were a blur. As I steadily snapped away, the wave of tourists pushed me along and somehow I kept shuffling the tracks on my self-guided tour so that I was perpetually stuck at the beginning of the tour, in the formal living and dining rooms. Plastic covers on the white sofas, rooms roped off at the entrances.
I didn’t mind. I kept thinking about the staircase up to the second floor, the only part of the house and estate that was off limits. Elvis had requested it be so in his will to protect at least some of his privacy. I would have wanted the same but I couldn’t help wonder if the upstairs was really preserved like the rest of the house or if the rooms had been disassembled and stored elsewhere. Every other aspect of his public life was on display. That must have been tough to live with.
Not just for him, but for his family as well. There were so many elements I wanted to capture there, beyond the estate. Another reason to return…