Alfred Wertheimer Dies At 85

NEW YORK, Oct. 22, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — Alfred Wertheimer, whose photographs of a 21-year-old Elvis Presley in 1956 are considered the definitive visual document of the soon-to-be “King of Rock & Roll” died on October 19, 2014 at his home in New York City.  He was 85.

Alfred Wertheimer, famed Elvis photographer, dies at 85. Alfred Wertheimer who captured Elvis Presley in the early years, poses at the exhibition during the European Elvis Presley festival in Bad Nauheim, Germany on August 16, 2014, where Elvis Presley performed his military service between 1958 and 1960. Wertheimer, who was 85, died of natural causes on October 19th at his New York apartment. Credit: Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images

His niece, Pam Wertheimer, said he died of natural causes.

Alfred Wertheimer took an assignment nobody else was interested in, to shoot an up-and-coming crooner from Memphis. He had the instinct to know that a revolution was coming and he followed Elvis on the road and elsewhere for another two weeks after his job for RCA was done. What came out of this is extraordinary in its intimacy and unparalleled in its scope. Al immortalized a young man in the very process of making history,” according to Bendikt Taschen, who published Mr. Wertheimer’s last book, Elvis and the Birth of Rock and Roll, in 2013.

Mr. Wertheimer’s photographs and stories were the basis for four other books about Elvis Presley. His book Elvis at 21 (Insight Editions, 2006) was selected by American Photo Magazine as one of the ten best photo books of the year.

The Smithsonian recently completed a tour of 14 major museums featuring Mr. Wertheimer’s photographs.  Elvis at 21: Photographs by Alfred Wertheimer, was co-organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service and Govinda Gallery.  The exhibition was accompanied by a catalog titled Elvis 1956 (Welcome Books).  Mr. Wertheimer’s books were edited by Chris Murray, Director of Govinda Gallery.  That exhibition opened at The Grammy Museum and included stops at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and the National Portrait Gallery of Australia.  Mr. Wertheimer’s photographs were featured in the inaugural exhibition at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, Artist to Icons.  Wertheimer also had a one-person exhibition of his photographs at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH.

Mr. Wertheimer’s photographs, along with Elvis Presley’s own recordings from that time, are the most important vintage documents of Elvis Presley in 1956, the year Presley and his music transformed the American music tradition.

Wertheimer left Hitler’s Germany with his father Julius, his mother Katy, and his brother Henry in 1936 when Wertheimer was six years old.  His family came to New York City and settled in an apartment on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn.  After graduating from high school in 1947 he was accepted at Cooper Union School of Art in Manhattan.  At Cooper Union he photographed his first events with a camera his brother Henry had given him.

In 1951 he graduated with a major in advertising design.  The following year he was drafted into the army.  After finishing his service in 1954, Wertheimer returned to New York City where he found a job with fashion photographer Tom Palumbo who worked for Harper’s Bazaar magazine.  Al eventually started his own business as a freelance photographer in the middle of 1955.  Wertheimer’s friend Paul Schutcer introduced Wertheimer to Ann Fulchino, a publicist at RCA.  Ann asked Al to take photos of RCA’s latest acquisition, a young singer named Elvis Presley.

After working for a number of years as a freelance photographer Wertheimer became a documentary cinematographer working as one of the principle cameramen on the film Woodstock, as well as covering the 1960 Presidential campaigns of John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon.