Elvis, Eggleston, and the Sounds of the City

When William Eggleston photographed Graceland, he tapped into Memphis’ deep musical heritage. See and listen to what he encountered there.

When William Eggleston photographed Graceland, he tapped into Memphis’ deep musical heritage. See and listen to what he encountered there.

William Eggleston, William Eggleston's Graceland, 1984. The complete portfolio of 11 prints. Estimate $180,000 - 280,000. Photographs New York.

In 1983, William Eggleston was invited by the estate of Elvis Presley to photograph Graceland, the musician’s grand mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. While Eggleston’s highly-personal, anti-monumental approach to photography made him a counterintuitive choice for the estate, his status as a native Memphian, his deep connections to the Memphis music scene, and his explorations of the American South made him ideally suited to the project.

William Eggleston, William Eggleston's Graceland, 1984. One print illustrated from the complete portfolio of 11 prints. Estimate $180,000 - 280,000. Photographs New York.

When Eggleston photographed Graceland, he tapped into Memphis’ deep musical heritage. A Memphis native, and a musician himself, Eggleston was attuned to the sounds of the city. Elvis Presley’s family moved to Memphis when he was 13, and in the decades that followed he drew from the Blues, Gospel, Country, Soul, and Rock music recorded in the city at such legendary studios as Sun, Stax, Ardent, and American Sound. He made his first professional recordings at Sun Studios in 1954, recorded later at Stax, and also cut tracks in the basement studio of Graceland later compiled on the album Way Down in the Jungle Room. The colors and rhythms of Memphis pulse through Eggleston’s photographs and give us an opportunity to reflect upon a key cultural figure of the 20th century, and to rediscover the other distinctly American sounds created in Memphis in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

The resulting eleven images, masterfully rendered in the saturated colors of the dye transfer process, show Eggleston working at the peak of his talents and present a remarkable document of this shrine to an American icon.

We invite you to explore the images and listen to the sounds of the city in a Memphis-inspired Spotify playlist by Senior International Specialist, Chris Mahoney.

 

 

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