Review - Elvis: The Personal Archives Book

By: David Neale
Source: Books In Print
September 2, 2005

Elvis: The Personal Archives
Elvis: The Personal Archives
Elvis occupies an ambivalent position in the strange world of art -- perhaps that should be Art, with a capital 'A', for I am not referring to the art of music or film, but that of the art gallery: static visual art. I suppose that Wertheimer's emotive black and white photographs of Elvis in 1956 count as art and probably represent the first entry of Elvis into that area, however unconscious and serendipitous. Since then Elvis has hardly made the big time in this often excessively intellectual domain -- yes, there was Any Warhol's use of Elvis' image in the early 1960s, but that was most certainly the exception, rather than the rule. This dearth is reflected in Elvis literature, too, for few books have made any considered effort to study Elvis' influence on art. My own Elvis In Print site lists a mere four titles and one of those deals with what might be considered art of a lesser form -- postage stamps -- while another, Joni Mabe's 'Everything Elvis', is open to ridicule.

Is it not strange that a cultural icon as powerful as Elvis has been largely neglected in the serious art world? I can only imagine that my previous reference to 'this often excessively intellectual domain' has something to do with it.

Enter Jeff Scott. A few years ago Jeff began exhibiting his Elvis-based work at the Jay Etkin Gallery in Memphis. Now Jeff is more than just another struggling artist trying to get a break. He has built a reputation for himself with his dramatic imagery of the USA's historic and cultural landscape, and his works are on permanent exhibition in such collections as the Dallas Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Jeff works largely with photographic techniques, using these to produce collages and montages.

Artists who have made use of Elvis' image have tended to resort to hackneyed imagery, repeating similar themes, relying on Elvis' own recognizability as much as artistic merit. It is, then, refreshing to see that the works of Jeff Scott rely as much on Elvis' personal, largely private, possessions, and are thus more thought-provoking and perhaps even more accessible to the (pseudo-)intellectuals of the art world.

Some of Jeff Scott's photographic works are presented in the finely produced book, 'Elvis: The Personal Archives.' For once EPE seems to have acted sensibly, providing Jeff with previously unheard of access to Elvis' private items and Scott has rewarded this generosity with many very fine works which represent Elvis the man far more than Elvis the entertainer.

Fans will recognise some items in the photographic works included in the book, but others will be new even to the most fervent. In this way, the book offers immediate interest to the Elvis fan. And don't worry, Elvis' image is here, too, though it is sometimes photographically manipulated to such an extent that it is almost unrecognisable, but still highly attractive and enjoyable.

Just a few of the 120 pages of the book are given over to text. A rather tedious and overly complex foreword (is there a Plain English Campaign in the USA?) by art historian E.A. Carmean Jr. is followed by a shorter and more readable introduction by Jeff Scott himself. From then on it is a lavish, beautifully designed and printed cornucopia of great Elvis art, the works accompanied by the briefest of captions.

Altogether, this is a superb collection of photographic works of art that should help promote Elvis' acceptability as a serious cultural icon. If you like well produced books, are interested in art, or interested in photography (being interested in Elvis goes without saying, of course), then you will enjoy leafing through 'Elvis: The Personal Archives' again and again.

Author: Jeff Scott
Publisher: Channel Photographics, New York
(Hardback, 120 pp.)

David Neale December 2005

Buy Elvis: The Personal Archives

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