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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!


00127925V: We’re here with Lisa S. Johnson, who has just released the book, 108 Guitars

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

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Listen: Lisa S. Johnson with Mathis Media Hub Radio

Joanne Mathis chats with Lisa S. Johnson about 108 Rock Star Guitars on Mathis Media Hub Radio, a station on BlogTalkRadio!

>>LISTEN HERE<<

00127925Armed with a macro lens, an incredible eye for detail, and a truly groundbreaking vision, Lisa Johnson’s guitar art is taking the world of fine art photography on a rock-and-roll ride. A compilation of Johnson’s stunningly personal and intimate portraits, 108 Rock Star Guitars features the guitars of rock-and-roll luminaries, including Les Paul, Eric Clapton, Jimmy, Page, Nancy Wilson, Bonnie, Raitt, Chrissie, Hynde, and many others.

Far from still life, Johnson’s work conjures the abstract yet also possesses a very sensual and ethereal feel that intentionally illustrates intimate wear-and-tear details. Her unique presentation personifies and captures a musician’s true spirit in these musical extensions of the artist’s body. This ultra-deluxe, coffee-table photo book reveals through Johnson’s signature macrophotography style the etchings, totems, and personal touches of each featured guitar. It is a rare perspective that few people outside of the musicians’ stage crew have seen.

Alongside these images, Johnson provides personal anecdotes describing her 17-year journey to photograph these iconic instruments, documenting her travels from the backstage hallways of some of the world’s most famous concert venues to the artists’ private homes. 108 Rock Star Guitars is a music and fine-art photograph aficionado’s private backstage pass to witness up-close these six-stringed works of art.

Rock Cellar Magazine Interview with Lisa S. Johnson

Lisa S. Johnson, author of 108 Rock Star Guitars, recently sat down for an awesome interview with Rock Cellar Magazine. Read the rest of the interview here!

Rock Cellar Magazine: Discuss your background and what led to the 108 Rock Star Guitars project. It definitely seems like something was quite a process to put together. 

Lisa S. Johnson: Well, I started 17 years ago. It took me 15 years of shooting, because I always had a job – I worked for Eastman Kodak for ten years and owned two yoga studios – so I was always doing this project on the side. What led to it was…I was working for Eastman Kodak and I had a territory in Memphis, Tennessee. I started dating the guitar player at church, and my dad, a musician, told me I was never allowed to date musicians.

So I called him and said “Dad, I’m dating a musician – however, he IS the guitar player at church, and he owns a vintage guitar shop!”

So my dad goes “Oh, well that’s different. He’s not a touring musician…let’s get back to the ‘vintage guitar shop’ part…I’ve always wanted a Gibson mandolin. If he ever gets one in, let me know!”

So literally two weeks later he gets in a 1917, mint condition Gibson mandolin which is now worth about $3,500. I said “I want to buy it for my dad, how much?” and he said “you can’t afford it, so why don’t you photograph some guitars for me instead?”

Shortly after, Kodak transferred me to New York. I thought ” you know, I really want to keep photographing guitars!” – since it was really the first time that I’d fallen in love with my imagery.

So I bee-lined it for the Iridium Jazz Club, where Les Paul played every Monday night. I figured if I’m going to photograph guitars, I might as well photograph famous ones.

Les Paul was such a sweetheart, he let me shoot his guitar, and twelve years later he ended up writing the forward for my book because I sat with him after a show one night and said “Les, do you remember when I photographed your guitar twelve  years ago?” and he said “yep!”, so I said “Well here’s Slash’s guitar, here’s Robby Krieger’s guitar, here’s Zakk Wylde’s guitar. I need somebody to write the forward for my book. You’re their hero and you’ve been with me on this project since Day 1. Would you consider it?”

And he said “yeah, I see what you’re saying…let’s do it!” So he did, and I’ll treasure that forever and ever.

Rock Cellar Magazine: Being that close with someone like Les Paul must have been a thrill, especially with how involved he became with your project. 

Lisa S. Johnson: It was really cool because back when I photographed Les’ guitars and those guitars back in Memphis I was shooting in black and white. And then I’d take the prints and hand color them, hand-tint them. So when I photographed Les’ guitars I brought him prints and he used to say “oh, here comes that girl that does that guitar art!” before he really got to know who I was.

I knew his standup bass player, Paul Lewinsky, and Lou Pallo, his rhythm player for 45 years, Thomas Doyle, his guitar tech, they all knew me so when I’d go to the shows they’d make sure I got back to the green room, so I’d always go back there and say hi to Les.

It was so special. I never spent time with him outside the Iridium Room, since he lived in New Jersey, but the time I did spend with him was a treasure. He was like my grandfather. As a result of his support of my work, 10% of the proceeds from sales go to the Les Paul Foundation, which helps get grants for children for music education and the hearing impaired.

00127925

Listen: Lisa S. Johnson talks with Pat Francis

Rock Solid host Pat Francis chats with Lisa S. Johnson about her new book, 108 Rock Star Guitars!

>>Listen Here<<

00127925Armed with a macro lens, an incredible eye for detail, and a truly groundbreaking vision, Lisa Johnson’s guitar art is taking the world of fine art photography on a rock-and-roll ride. A compilation of Johnson’s stunningly personal and intimate portraits, 108 Rock Star Guitars features the guitars of rock-and-roll luminaries, including Les Paul, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Nancy Wilson, Bonnie Raitt, Chrissie Hynde, and many others.

Far from still life, Johnson’s work conjures the abstract yet also possesses a very sensual and ethereal feel that intentionally illustrates intimate wear-and-tear details. Her unique presentation personifies and captures a musician’s true spirit in these musical extensions of the artist’s body. This ultra-deluxe, coffee-table photo book reveals through Johnson’s signature macrophotography style the etchings, totems, and personal touches of each featured guitar. It is a rare perspective that few people outside of the musicians’ stage crew have seen.

Alongside these images, Johnson provides personal anecdotes describing her 17-year journey to photograph these iconic instruments, documenting her travels from the backstage hallways of some the world’s most famous concert venues to the artists’ private homes. 108 Rock Star Guitars is a music and fine-art photography aficionado’s private backstage pass to witness up-close these six-stringed works of art.

Book Giveaways

Hal Leonard and Backbeat books have 3 exciting book giveaways! Enter to win copies of 108 Rock Star Guitars, Brian May’s Red Special, and Southbound: An Illustrated History of Southern Rock. Hurry before the contests close!

>>CLICK TO WIN!<<
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108 Rock Star Guitars: The Lou Reed Story

Lisa S. Johnson has a story about each an every guitar she photographed on her journey to create 108 Rock Star Guitars. Tune in to her Youtube page every week to hear a new story. Here she is talking about her experience in photographing Lou Reed’s blue Bolin.