The Story Behind the Portrait
This photograph belongs to a series called The Kings Of England which I’ve worked on since 2013.
Four years into the project I’d photographed lots of middle aged men whose love of Elvis Presley is understandable. Yet amongst the tenor voices and spreading midriffs, I’d seen a few kids up on stage belting out ‘Suspicious Minds’ with incredible gusto.
One of these was Alfie Pearson who I’d met at an Elvis competition in Barnsley the previous year. Alfie was obsessed with the Elvis tribute scene. He stood at the side of the stage handing scarves to the ETA’s (Elvis Tribute Artists) just like Charlie Hodge did for the King in Vegas in the seventies. Everyone knew Alfie and Alfie knew everyone.
I spoke to his Mum Steph who told me how he’s been viciously bullied and how he’s escaped into Elvis and wanted to go pro when he was old enough. When I found out that his Dad, Dave had a serious health condition which could result in a trip to A & E at any time of night or day, I figured Alfie had a lot on his plate for a 13 year old. And yet when he was on stage, all his troubles disappeared, leaving behind a confident, joyous lad who loved to entertain. Soon after he won the coveted “King Of The Cabin” award at Porthcawl Elvis festival and the bullying began to stop. Alfie began to be seen in newspapers and on TV, he’d become “Somebody”.
I arranged to meet Alfie at his home in East Yorkshire and the light was disappearing as I pulled up. Alfie met me, already dressed in his red jumpsuit. I pulled the camera out of the bag and asked him to stand in the last sliver of sunlight. This portrait was the third shot on the roll.
When I pressed the shutter, I knew it would be my cover picture. When I saw the print, I almost cried. I love his confidence, standing on the lawn of his house and looking to his future. Almost a man, but happily still a child, loved and cherished by a proud Mum and Dad.
The photobook “The Kings Of England” is to be published by Bluecoat Press summer 2018. You can pre order a copy on Kickstarter.
Yorkshire born Graeme Oxby is a photographer, film maker and lecturer whose work has been published in the last year by The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and Huck Magazine to name but a few. He was the Artistic Director of Hull International Photography Festival in 2015 and produced The Hull Beermat Photography Festival with images chosen by Martin Parr for the City Of Culture in 2017.
His personal projects include “Light & Life” about Evangelical Christian Gypsies, “Deep in the Heart of Brexit” about areas of England that voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU and “The Kings Of England”, a five year project about Elvis impersonators; soon to be a book published by Bluecoat Press. The work has been exhibited widely including most recently via open submission in The Belfast Photo Festival 2017. In 2018 he was commissioned to contribute a picture to the Invisible Britain Portraits book.
Graeme lectures in Photography at The University of Lincoln and is an External Examiner for BA Photography at The University Of West London.