Friday, August 5, 2011

Photographing The King

I first heard of photographer Sean Shaver and his book Photographing The King in 1982, when I saw an add for it in an issue of the British fan club magazine (that was the year I became a member). Little did I know at the time that I would get my hands on a copy of the book almost 30 years later, thanks to winning a bidding at the Swedish eBay site Tradera.

Sean Shaver became an Elvis fan as early as 1955. In 1967 he met and photographed Elvis. From then until Elvis' death he devoted himself to capturing him on film. In Photographing The King he shares some memories and many of the approximately 80,000 photographs he shot of Elvis.

In the introduction Sean Shaver states that he is not a writer. After reading the book last week I agree it's a bit unstructured. At the same time I found some of his stories fascinating. And a lot of his photos are really great, especially those from 1975 and 1976 (in early 1975 he started to use a new type of film and a special strobe).

Between February 1970 and right up until the last concert in June, 1977, Sean Shaver shot about 500 shows. How he managed to drive from city to city during all the different tours and catch all those concerts, financially as well as physically, I have no idea. And to make the conditions even worse, Colonel Parker didn't want him to take any pictures.

It's amusing to read about all the ways Sean Shaver tried to outsmart security in Las Vegas (where the rules against cameras were very strict). Many times he would go into the showroom with a camera attached to his ankle by a bandage, or have a girl sneak a camera into the room in her purse. He even used a pair of binoculars which were actually a camera.

Over the years Sean Shaver became closer and closer to Elvis and his entourage, although Colonel Parker continued to dislike him. He spent time with Elvis' pilots and even took pictures of Lisa Marie taking off, at Elvis' request. In fact, there are a couple of shots in the book of Elvis boarding or disembarking his plane, one of them having Elvis waving his finger at Shaver's camera.

One story I found particularly interesting was that Elvis' record producer Felton Jarvis asked Sean Shaver to get a shot of Elvis at the piano playing and singing "Unchained Melody." According to Shaver, Felton thought this would be the ultimate album cover. Sean Shaver got Felton Jarvis the shots he wanted, but when Colonel Parker heard about it Felton sent the pictures back.

Maybe it's a bit ironic that while no photos taken by Sean Shaver ever graced an Elvis album during Elvis' lifetime, they do today. The Follow That Dream release America, featuring Elvis concert at the City Auditorium, Omaha, Nebraska, on April 22, 1976, is one such example.

After reading Photographing The King I tried to learn more about Sean Shaver by Googling the Internet. I can report there isn't much out there. I found a web page dedicated to Sean Shavers work, and some discussions on different forums, but that's about it. I couldn't even verify if he's alive or not. Can you help me out?

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