Interview with Lisa S. Johnson, the woman behind 108 Rock Star Guitars
Lisa S. Johnson, author of 108 Rock Star Guitars, was interviewed online on Guitar Girl Magazine, where she talked about her book and the amazing pictures featured in it. Read what she had to say in the excerpt below!
L: 108 Rock Star Guitars!
V: Yes, rock star guitars– nothing that isn’t in that realm! So, what made you interested in just shooting guitars rather than guitars, drums, etc.? Do you play?
L: I grew up in a musical family; my father plays multiple instruments, and my mother is a singer, a country western singer, I grew up on country western, and then my brothers and sisters who are all older, they were into classic rock. And so I listened to that with all my friends. I had a country background and a classic rock upbringing, with some blues and jazz as well. Then I ended up going to school for photography, and I ended up working for Eastman Kodak. I wanted to be a photographer; I ended up working for Kodak. All us reps at Kodak, we were all aspiring photographers; we all wanted to be photographers, and we all had access to as much film as we wanted. So we were always shooting films and testing films to make sure we understood our products, and we could sell them to our photographer clients, and I was in and working for Kodak in Memphis Tennessee, and I started dating the guitar player at church. My father told me growing up I was not allowed to date musicians, so I called my dad up and said “Dad, I’m calling to confess, I’m dating a musician, however, he is the guitar player at church and he owns a vintage guitar store, that’s his business”. So Dad said, “Oh, well, that’s different, he’s not a touring musician; he owns a vintage guitar store, huh? If he ever gets in a Gibson mandolin, I’ve always wanted one; let me know.” So two weeks later, he gets in a 1917, mint condition, Gibson mandolin. And I said to him, “I want that for my dad, how much?” He said, “You can’t afford it, but if you photograph some guitars for me, that I have to sell that I don’t want to sell, I’ll trade you for the mandolin.” Now at that time I was shooting objects; I was studying the films, and I was shooting objects, and I was hand coloring them. At the time Kodak had a new film out called Kodak TNXP3200 that had grain, beautiful grain, and we had a new paper that had come out that was specific for hand tinting images, so I was practicing, experimenting with that, and so that’s what he was talking about, ‘I want you to photograph some guitars for me, like you do these objects, and hand color them and I’ll trade you for the mandolin’. So that’s how I fell in love with photographing guitars, at that point. Then I would go into his store, and I’d bring home any guitar I wanted, these beautiful, vintage guitars. One of the first ones I shot was a Fender paisley telecaster, and not long after that Kodak transferred me to New York City, and I thought, you know, every photographer needs to have a niche, something that they have a strength on, and so I thought, well, my signature imagery is going to be guitars. And I may as well photograph famous ones, if I’m gonna do it, so Les Paul performed every Monday night at the Iridium Room in New York, and I went down there; I used to go by myself, and they had a bar in the back, in the old-school Iridium Room, the original one, and I’d go back and I’d sit there, and I got to know his bass player, his fiddle bass, stand-up bass player, and I said, “Do you think Les would let me photograph his guitar?” and I showed him images that I’d been doing in Memphis, and he said “Let me ask him.” And Les came back and said yes, and twelve years later, he wrote the foreword for my book, 108 Rock Star Guitars.
V: Proof of ‘who knows, when you ask…?’
L: That’s right; you gotta ask.
V: Now, has your filming changed over the years; have you gone to digital or do you still use the hardcore film techniques..?
L: I transitioned to digital; having worked for Kodak, of course I’m a film person- I love film. It’s just that the digital process is so much more efficient and easier, and faster…! What’s cool about this book is that not only is it historic in that it captured all these historic guitars, it’s also historical in that this was project that took 17 years to complete. And 15 years of it was shooting, then assembling and creating the book. So for 15 years, I began with film, I transitioned to the new digital, I got screwed on a couple of photo shoots because the digital technology wasn’t really there, or so good in low light situations, and I was always shooting in low light situations backstage, so I learned, though, about digital, and then, now- I always was Nikon and went to Canon for a few years- and then I’ve just recently switched back to Nikon DE 810, it’s phenomenal, and I still use my same lens I’ve been using for years.
V: It’s a signature for you now?
L: Yeah, I love that lens; it’s a 35 to 72 8 f-stop lens, and it’s got a macro setting on it, so I can move in on the subject, and that’s what I do; I photograph the wear and tear details of the guitars that personify the artists without them being in the picture. How their pick hits the pick guard, how Keith Richards’ skull ring etches out in the pick guard, you know you can’t see that unless you get up close and personal with the guitars, so that’s what I do. I look at life that way, as close-ups; I like to look close at things and so, I do photograph the whole guitar; I also hone in on the details.
Read the rest of the interview over at Guitar Girl Magazine