Alfred Wertheimer in 2008, holding one of his most famous shots, a photo of Elvis kissing a woman (Barbara Gray) backstage.
(Photo source: New York Times ...
Alfred Wertheimer (1929-2014) is best known as the photographer who captured Elvis Presley on the precipice of life-changing
fame in a series of remarkably intimate black-and-white photos in 1956.
Wertheimer, a German émigré, was only 26 years old when he received the fateful call, in 1956,
from an RCA publicist asking whether he would photograph an up-and-coming singer from Memphis
called Elvis. Wertheimer, a Cooper Union School of the Arts graduate who served two years in
the U.S. Army, would later tell Vanity Fair's Bob Colacello (source 1) that his response to this request was, "Elvis who?"
The Brooklyn-raised photojournalist went on to take 3,800 photographs of the soon-to-be rock
sensation over the course of seven days in March, June, and July of that year. Shadowing Presley
fly-on-the-wall-style, Wertheimer captured candid moments of Elvis shaving, staring out a train
window deep in thought, singing in the recording studio, sitting shirtless in his parents' house,
and answering the phone in his underwear. More specific, photos were taken on:
17 March 1956, CBS Studio 50, New York (Dorsey Show),
29 June 1956, Manhattan Loft Studio, New York,
1 July 1956, NBC Hudson Theater, New York (Steve Allen Show),
2 July 1956, RCA Victor Studios, New York (Recording session for Hound Dog, Don't Be Cruel a.o.),
3 July 1956, on the train from New York to Memphis,
4 July 1956, Audubon Drive, Memphis and Russwood Baseball Park, Memphis, and
22 August 1958, Brooklyn Army Terminal
The photos not only captured Presley at his most beautiful
and most pure-before the post-fame incarnations of "fat Elvis" and "B-movie Elvis" would set in - but,
in the backdrop, wholesome 1950s America, right before Presley's groin-thrusting synthesis of rhythm,
blues, gospel, and country would electrify it.
After his collaboration with Elvis, Wertheimer worked as a cinematographer for Britain's Granada
Television, a cameraman for Michael Wadleigh's Woodstock documentary, and a rental agent for Steenbeck
film-editing machines before returning focus to his Elvis photos through a series of books (most of them with his collobarator and publisher
Chris Murray, but also in co-operation with Sean Shaver and Ger Rijff a.o.) and gallery exhibits.
(the above text was partly adapted from source 3).
Vanity Fair ... (article by Bob Colacellom, December 2009)
EIN Spotlight on Alfred Wertheimer ... (adapted by EIN from the article by Bob Colacellom, 2011)
Vanity Fair ... (article by Julie Miller, October 21, 2014)
New York Times ... (article by William Yardley, October 24, 2014)
Echoes of the Past ... (by Bob Pakes, September 2015)
Text updated: 2 April 2022