Elvis Presley’s Graceland Included in Annie Leibovitz’s Latest Book
November 10, 2011
Annie Leibovitz, celebrated portraitist, recently spent a few days shooting at Elvis Presleys’ Graceland and some of the photos are included in her latest book, Pilgrimage. It is a personal project for Leibovitz and all the pictures in the book were made simply because she was drawn to her subjects, including Elvis Presley and Graceland. She wasn’t on assignment and she had no particular agenda. The shots taken at Graceland in Memphis include one stunning image taken at dusk and with all the lights off except those in Elvis’ upstairs bedroom. “Standing there looking at his house that night, we almost had the feeling that Elvis was still home," Leibovitz says. “I know how much Elvis loved Graceland so seeing it like that makes it a very special image for me.”
The Pilgrimage photographs have no people in them. They are portraits only in the sense that they evoke the figures who have shaped the artist’s view of the world. Leibovitz began the project almost by accident, when she visited Emily Dickinson’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts, and, a few months later, when she traveled with her children to Niagara Falls. She had just started using small digital cameras, which gave her a new technical freedom and the ability to travel light. Pilgrimage is Leibovitz’s first purely digital project.
Leibovitz was guided to her subjects initially by memories of conversations with Susan Sontag about places they wanted to travel to and people they admired. Some of the earliest subjects were British, but most of the places on the lists were American. In addition to Graceland, she also visited Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo, Miss., the Freud Museum in London and Virginia Woolf’s country house in East Sussex.
Leibovitz often went to the same site many times in her explorations. He photos at Graceland took place during several different visits to Memphis and she was granted rare access to the archives where she chose to photograph the television set from Elvis’ Palm Springs home.
One particular image offered a unique challenge for Leibovitz. Elvis’ Harley Davidson motorcycle, which was on display in the “Sincerely Elvis” exhibit space, could not be easily moved so she had to take the photo through glass after setting up the shot inside the exhibit itself. While a tight squeeze for the portraitist, it offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for several children in school groups to receive an impromptu photography lesson from one icon while visiting the home of another.
Other Elvis-related images from the book include:
- A turntable Elvis used in his bedroom
- His birthplace in Tupelo, MS
- His mother's dresses in a closet
- Minnie Mae's sunglasses on a tray
- The stairs leading up to the private quarters at Graceland
Some of the pictures in Pilgrimage are stylized, sometimes abstract, sometimes literal views of the interiors of living rooms and bedrooms, landscapes, and talismanic objects. The final list of subjects is perhaps a bit eccentric—In addition to Elvis, readers will find Georgia O’Keeffe, Eleanor Roosevelt and Annie Oakley, among others. Figurative imagery gives way to the abstractions of Old Faithful and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. Leibovitz speaks of the project’s restorative value for her. “From the beginning, when I was watching my children stand mesmerized over Niagara Falls, it was an exercise in renewal,” she says.
For more information or to purchase the book, visit RandomHouse.com.