"I'd never heard of the man," Wertheimer told TIME. "He didn't have a gold record yet." (By the end of the year, Elvis was known around the world, and was a millionaire at a time when a million dollars meant something.)At that time, Alfred Wertheimer was a young photojournalist, who had grown up in Brooklyn, and attended Cooper Union. He would go on to spend around ten days with Elvis over the next two years, and shoot roughly 2,500 photographs. Wertheimer did not use flash bulbs when he photographed Elvis, enabling him to catch candid, un-posed moments with his two small 35mm Nikon S-2 Rangefinder cameras. Wertheimer used very slow shutter speeds to get enough light for a good exposure. This technique is called using "available light," but Wertheimer pushed it to extremes and coined the phrase "using available darkness." According to Wertheimer, "The darker your environment, the more people let it all hang out."
"The wonderful thing about Elvis," Wertheimer recalled, "was that he permitted closeness. Later on, I found out he also made the girls cry. Those were the two qualities that made him different from other performers I had met. Others would let you to come within six or eight feet, but that was it. They'd get nervous, or they’d start to ham it up. Not Elvis. He was always just himself."No photographer would ever get this close to Elvis again. But because Presley was, at the time, as innocent and carefree as Wertheimer, these photographs afford us a breathtaking, undimmed portrait of the man who would be king.
|June 30, 1956. Coffee shop at the Jefferson Hotel, Richmond, Virginia. My most popular picture… the New York Times wouldn’t put the kiss on their website, but I have sold more of these (titled Grilled Cheese 20 cents) than all my others combined.|
(Photos © Alfred Wertheimer, via TIME LightBox)