Photo by  Tim Mantoani

Photo by  Tim Mantoani

When Elvis was just 21

Al Wertheimer was an up-and-coming photographer in the 1950s who very early saw something special in Elvis Presley — the “Hillbilly Cat” from Mississippi. He traveled with him during 1956, capturing wonderful and intimate moments as Elvis hovered on the cusp of celebrity. The Wertheimer collection represents the only candid photos of Elvis—taken before access was restricted to Presley. From backstage to onstage, from piano benches to Harleys, from his personal life on the road to the public uproar of screaming fans, Wertheimer captured the essence of early Elvis. 

Wertheimer did not use flash when he photographed Elvis, enabling him to be like a fly on the wall, catching candid, un-posed moments with his two 35mm Nikon S-2 Rangefinder cameras. Sometimes Wertheimer would use very slow shutter speeds to get enough light for that perfect exposure. The technique is known as “available light photography,” but Wertheimer pushed it to extremes and coined the phrase “available darkness.” According to Wertheimer, “The darker your environment, the more people let it all hang out.”

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