In photos: Elvis on the brink of history

·1 min read
Elvis tending to his pompadour in the men’s room of the Mosque Theater, Richmond, Virginia, 30 June 1956  (Alfred Wertheimer/Courtesy Taschen)
Elvis tending to his pompadour in the men’s room of the Mosque Theater, Richmond, Virginia, 30 June 1956 (Alfred Wertheimer/Courtesy Taschen)

“Elvis who?” was photographer Alfred Wertheimer’s response when, in early 1956, a publicist asked him to photograph an up-and-coming crooner from Memphis. Little did Wertheimer know that this would be the job of his life: just 21 years old, Elvis Presley was – as we now know – about to become a legend.

Trailing Presley like a shadow, Wertheimer took nearly 3,000 photographs of the singer that year, a man poised on the brink of superstardom. Wertheimer’s Elvis project immortalised a young man in the very process of making history.

Elvis and the Birth of Rock and Roll collects Wertheimer’s most remarkable shots from that year, along with a selection of his historic 1958 pictures of the star being shipped off to an army base in Germany (Wertheimer’s home country).

His photographs, which first gained national attention after Elvis Presley died in 1977, capture the singer’s evolution in the music industry and cultural transformation of America.

Starburst, Russwood Park, Memphis, Tennessee, 4 July 1956. A lucky accident, a flashbulb goes off in the crowd at the very moment the shutter of Wertheimer’s camera opens, creating a magnificent spray of backlight (Alfred Wertheimer/Taschen)
Starburst, Russwood Park, Memphis, Tennessee, 4 July 1956. A lucky accident, a flashbulb goes off in the crowd at the very moment the shutter of Wertheimer’s camera opens, creating a magnificent spray of backlight (Alfred Wertheimer/Taschen)
Fans reach out to Elvis for autographs (Alfred Wertheimer/Taschen)
Fans reach out to Elvis for autographs (Alfred Wertheimer/Taschen)
Elvis as ‘Tumbleweed Presley’ during a rehearsal for ‘The Steve Allen Show’ in New York, 1 July 1956 (Alfred Wertheimer/Taschen)
Elvis as ‘Tumbleweed Presley’ during a rehearsal for ‘The Steve Allen Show’ in New York, 1 July 1956 (Alfred Wertheimer/Taschen)
The Kiss, the Mosque Theater, 30 June 1956. Though perhaps Wertheimer’s most famous photo, the identity of the woman remained unknown until she came forward in 2011, 55 years after the photo was taken (Alfred Wertheimer/Taschen)
The Kiss, the Mosque Theater, 30 June 1956. Though perhaps Wertheimer’s most famous photo, the identity of the woman remained unknown until she came forward in 2011, 55 years after the photo was taken (Alfred Wertheimer/Taschen)
Elvis with Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black on bass and DJ Fontana on drums during a live performance on Stage Show, 17 March 1956 (Alfred Wertheimer/Taschen)
Elvis with Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black on bass and DJ Fontana on drums during a live performance on Stage Show, 17 March 1956 (Alfred Wertheimer/Taschen)
‘May I take your order?’: Elvis prepares to turn on the charm with a waitress at the Hotel Jefferson in Richmond, Virginia (Alfred Wertheimer/ Taschen)
‘May I take your order?’: Elvis prepares to turn on the charm with a waitress at the Hotel Jefferson in Richmond, Virginia (Alfred Wertheimer/ Taschen)
The book cover (Alfred Wertheimer/Taschen)
The book cover (Alfred Wertheimer/Taschen)

You can purchase ‘Alfred Wertheimer. Elvis and the Birth of Rock and Roll’ here