Featuring the photography of Jonathan Exley
October 28, 2008 welcomed photographer Jonathan Exley's superb vision onto the
pages of With Strings Attached: The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars, published
by Random House. Lyrical prose is complimented, albeit completed by the
masterful photography of famed photographer, Jonathan Exley. Three hundred and
eighty visual images take you on a journey of the guitar as these never-before
seen photos paint the pages. Images are vibrant, austere and sometimes one feels
the age of the guitar while bathed in its beauty.
When a book this masterful appears on the market one is shaken by the beauty and
fluency of these pictures. I had to find the photographer.
Ninety percent of the 11 x 14 hard bound coffee table book is a showcase for
Exley's photos. However, in interviewing him, he states that this project was
more like a love affair. Being a guitar player himself, this was a chance of a
lifetime. The project is extremely intimate and one needs go no further than the
superior photos for that evidence. The cracks, veneer, sheen, perfection and
imperfection is all captured in cherished creativity—examining and highlighting
the very human nature of the instruments. The guitars and mandolins range from a
turn-of-the-century parlor guitar to the best guitars made in the mid fifties
and early sixties. The integrity of the guitars is palpable as all were hand
built-- D’Angelico, Lloyd Loar, Dobro, Les Paul, Gibsons,
Fenders, Stromberg, Nationals ... one of only two Martin 00028/ 12 strings. And
many many more.
The book was shot completely in medium format Kodak EPR 120 film, using
Hasselblad cameras. Each guitar became a personal friend to Exley. Every
day for eight months, Exley would hear each guitar say good morning, beckon to
“pick me up” and “play me” ...and that, they were.
The guitars are the rock stars: Each had its own lighting and was shot from its
good side. Exley, being a fashion and beauty photographer, had these guys in
good hands. So good, that this guitar book is setting a bar that may never be
“This project was definitely a labor of love,” Exley tells me. All told, he
worked eight months, days and nights; photographing, developing, making prints.
Not only did Exley do all the photography in this book, he is also credited with
the concept and design of the front and back cover as well as the end papers. The project, he tells me, would have never been completed without the help of Samy
Kamienowicz and his wife Hedy of SAMY'S CAMERA, LACIE HARD DRIVES, KODAK,
EPSON. AS WELL AS HIS DEAR FRIEND ERNST WILDI and MANY others, all of whom made
this project possible.
When you see the images, you’ll be struck by the shape of the guitar just as one
is struck by an exceptional nude: the curves, lines, definitions, flaws. These
instruments were made when hands could hear and this book encompasses the images
to confirm it. Between each chapter of visual bliss are a few pages
written by J. Kellermen, best known for his Alex Delaware books.
From one who’s listened to it, wanted it, played it and heard it he says, “These
guitars are alive. They’ll be alive when most of us are gone.”
…As will this book.
"THIS OLD GUITAR AIN'T MINE TO KEEP, IT'S MINE TO PLAY FOR A
-- NEIL YOUNG
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (October 28, 2008)