Elvis at 21: Alfred Wertheimer talks about his famous photos

June 5, 2011

In March of 1956, 26-year-old photographer Alfred Wertheimer got a call from a publicist at RCA asking him to shoot photos for the Dorsey Brothers Stage Show at Studio 50. At first he thought the assignment was to shoot “one of (his) minor heroes — Tommy Dorsey” but the publicist told him the subject was a recent signee to the label.

“Elvis who?” Wertheimer asked, then accepted the assignment. The result was a total of about eight shooting days and some 2,500 images of the 21-year-old Elvis Presley, just as he was about to supernova.

Elvis at 21, Photogaphs by Alfred Wertheimer , which will be at the Clinton Library through August 21 comprised forty 36 x 48” black and white pigment prints (created by David Adamso) that show us an Elvis on the cusp of fame, at a time when he could still eat undisturbed at a drugstore lunch counter and walk the streets of Manhattan unaccompanied.

Werthiemer gave me a tour of the exhibit the day before it opened, and I’ll be doing an essay for the newspaper, but here are some of the photographers thoughts on some specific images from the show.

Gentlemen, what would you like? by Philip Martin

The Kiss by Philip Martin


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