Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Alfred Wertheimer is dead. He invented rock photography

Alfred Wertheimer has died at the age of 85. If you don't know who he was put his name into Google Images and you'll see a unique series of pictures of the young Elvis Presley.

Wertheimer took them during a train journey with Elvis between New York and Memphis in 1956. The pictures show Elvis canoodling with girlfriends, waiting for his meal at a segregated lunch counter, staring out of a train window and hanging about with his extended family at North Audubon Drive.

They are the best set of pictures ever taken of a rock star. That's not just because Elvis was the best subject or because Wertheimer was the best photographer. They're the best set of pictures ever taken of a rock star because Colonel Tom Parker didn't have the presence of mind to cut off the thing that made them great - access.

All the iconic pictures taken of rock stars - early Presley, Dylan, Beatles, Stones, Sex Pistols, Smiths etc - were taken in the days when they were so keen on publicity that they gave access to just about everybody. As soon as they could pick and choose they sought to control their own images and in the process made themselves profoundly dull. That's why there hasn't been a picture of a rock star taken in the last thirty years that packs a fraction of the power and information contained in the one above.


  1. Zig-Zag magazine published a fabulous picture of Billy Idol playing darts with John Walters just before/after their first Peel session at Maida Vale. If it's in Idol's recently published memoirs I'll show my a*rse in Burtons window.

  2. I met Alfred Wertheimer in 1981 in New York. He had suitcases of unused Elvis pics stashed under his bed as he'd only been required to wire in a certain number to RCA each week from the tour to earn his weekly retainer. Tom Parker, AFAIK, was out of the loop.

    Only when Elvis died did he realise he was literally sleeping on a goldmine. I negotiated with him to use some pics in a artwork I edited, the History of Rock. He was shrewd, but friendly to a naive young Limey.

    RIP Alfred.