June 02, 2010

Les Paul
Guitar legend Les Paul as photographed by Ralph Gibson.

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By Sam Alcorn 

LEWISBURG, Pa. — A portfolio of 87 photographs of some of the world's most influential musicians posing with their guitars has been donated to the Samek Art Gallery at Bucknell University.

Gallery Director Dan Mills described the promised collective gift from Anne '82 and Raymond Merritt '83 and Ellen and Douglas Smith '84 as a "significant addition that enhances the Samek collection in every way. It's an amazing gift."

The 11- by 14-inch black-and-white photos by acclaimed photographer Ralph Gibson include a who's who of the guitar world of jazz greats and rockers - from Lou Reed and Bill Frisell to David Byrne and Al di Meola. The photographs represent several generations of guitar heroes posing with their favorite "axes."

Guitar masters
"A good number are guitar masters most everyone will know," said Mills. "Some may be less familiar unless you are a guitarist or music aficionado."

Some of the photographs are featured in Gibson's 2008 book, State of the Axe: Guitar Masters in Photographs and Words, which includes a preface by another guitar hero, Les Paul. The only other museum that currently has a set of the images is The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

The Samek is planning a "State of the Axe" exhibit to show Gibson's photographs as early as fall 2011. In the meantime, three of his gelatin on silver prints on paper — Les Paul (2000), David Byrne (2007) and John McLaughlin (2007) — are on display at the entrance of the gallery in the Elaine Langone Center.

Traveled world
Mills said Gibson, who also plays guitar, traveled the world to shoot the images in intimate studios or home settings.

"It was really an artist-to-artist barter," said Mills. In return for the photographs, the guitarists provided Gibson with short texts meditating on the guitar or providing insights into their passion for their instruments — whether they're traditional six-string electrics or acoustics, double-necks, 12-strings or fretless models.

Mills said the photographs by Gibson, born in 1939, reflect his penchant for stark and sometimes dramatically cropped black-and-white imagery.

"When I heard about this body of work, I discussed with Ray (Merritt) why it would be wonderful if such a body of work could end up at Bucknell," said Mills, adding that Merritt is a long-time friend of the photographer. "The moment was right."

The guitar photographs join other Gibson images already in the Samek collection. Last year, a larger group of donors, including those who acquired the guitar images, gave Bucknell a series of 50 photographs from Gibson's "Tropical Drift" portfolio.

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