Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Being at the right place at the right time

It opened in 2010 in Los Angles, but Alfred Wertheimer's exhibit of photos taken of Elvis Presley has come to Fort Worth and got a Op/Ed write-up by the Star-Telegram executive editor Jim Witt. Several things make it unique, this may have been the only time a photographer got 24/7 access to Elvis, time makes the images even more powerful and it takes luck.
   Wertheimer tells how he was just starting out in 1957 and shared an apartment with two other photographers. One roommate, Paul Schutzer was trying to get his foot in door at the weekly LIFE magazine. The PR photos of a singer wasn't as important as an assignment from LIFE magazine, so he passed it along to his roommate. Wertheimer didn't have any conflicts and gladly took the assignment, but was offered a choice in what he'd be paid.
   The assignment was with RCA records, who along with paying for film and processing offered to pay a day-rate of $300, and they would get copyright and exclusive use, OR they'd by just $50/day and Wertheimer kept ownership of the negatives. Wertheimer didn't know who this new singer was, but he didn't want to give up his artists rights and worked for $50 (plus expenses). It was several days and wasn't that bad in the 50's.
   What's interesting is how he kept the negatives and went on to become a documentary film cameraman. Schutzer went on to become a staff photographer at LIFE covering major news around the world and ended up getting killed in 1967 covering the Six Day War in Israel. Photos people wanted to see that week, but not that interesting 40 years later.
   Wertheimer's pictures of Elvis are worth seeing. They last and although he took lots of other photos the Elvis photos are the only ones anyone wants to see. Retiring from film, he spends his time filling the interest in seeing the pictures, selling to other pubs, doing his own books, selling prints and exhibitions. Reminds me of Andre Kertesz who brought out his old photos taken when he was in his 20s in Paris and after he retired as a staff photographer for House and Garden in 1960, he started having shows. People looked at them differently. Not to go in a publication but just as photos documenting a period. A variety of scenes in Paris and then in New York City in the 1930's when he was freelancing.
Photo by JG Domke - 1973 San Francisco
  Do you need to wait forty years and go back to look at the photos? What do they tell? Was it a passing event, or captures the era? I was in San Francisco and they were very active in speaking out against the Vietnam War. I was working for the San Francisco Examiner covering the events, but they didn't want to save the negatives of anti-war protesters. I kept the negatives, theses are my pictures. 

But what does it say, is it simply old news or is it art? Save your photos, you never know.

P.S. - As far as roommates go they were on the cutting edge: Schutzer makes it onto the Life staff, Wertheimer captures Woodstock in 1968 and other documentaries. 
Photo by JG Domke 1973