“Elvis who?” said Alfred Wertheimer when a publicist asked him in 1956 to shoot some photos of a kid singer on the rise. Wertheimer, a young German emigre photographer, needed rent money so he took the job and soon found he had an icon in his viewfinder.
The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and the Govinda Gallery have put together 56 of Wertheimer’s photos from those early days of the King and packaged them up for a nine-city, three-year tour of the country. I caught the exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, but anybody can see 15 of these astonishing photos online
The film critic David Thomson once wrote, “…there is a type of person, not necessarily an actor, who enjoys being photographed because he or she reckons that revelation is their strength. They regard the camera as a friend, or a lover even; and it is not absurd to say that some screen gods and goddesses have had affairs with the camera.”
You can’t look at these photos without believing that Elvis was a natural of exactly this kind. Elvis is the star here, but Wertheimer is a first-rate photographer who time and again manages to get the revealing shot. There are certain images where you can just about see this small-town boy realizing that he’s destined to become Elvis.
For those with a deeper interest in the story behind these photos, Bob Colacello’s article in Vanity Fair is worth reading..