In 1956, young German émigré photographer Alfred Wertheimer was assigned the job of a lifetime: to photograph Elvis Presley over the course of a year during the buildup to his anticipated explosion of fame. Commissioned by a Radio Corporation of America publicist, Wertheimer’s photographs have become almost as legendary as the King himself. The images capture the youthful charm of Presley, as he waited for stardom: on stage, behind the scenes, on the road, and even at his home in Memphis. TASCHEN Books have collected the very best of Wertheimer’s over 3000 photos, compiling them into XL and XXL book editions, complete with posters by Hatch Show Print, one of the oldest letterpress print shops in America, who regularly produced posters for Presley’s concerts.
Alfred Wertheimer’s pictures appear in both fresh 50’s color and stunning black and white photography. They show Elvis Presley the performer, the poser, and the seducer, as well as raw and intimate moments of the musician caught unawares, in transit or lost in thought. The portraits appearing in TASCHEN’s books include rare historic pictures of the rhythm and blues man, like him traveling to an army base in Germany, as well as iconic images, like ‘Kiss,’ a snap of Elvis embracing a young fan, Barbara Gray. Posited as the first Rock’n’Roll photographer, Wertheimer’s images are without precedent in the history of popular music.
Wertheimer’s early photojournalism sparked a career as a cinematographer and cameraman but he would return to his photographs of the country music star, producing gallery exhibitions and book publications of his vintage images. Part of the appeal of Wertheimer’s photos is how they capture the essence of the Elvis that the world would come to know, while also foreshadowing the toll that fame would take.
© Photo: Sonam Tsering of Rebkong