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 reached again.

“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.

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books (October 28, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0345499786
ISBN-13: 978-0345499783