Vintage Guitar - March 2018 - open - 30
publisher to release a book highlighting the
What spurred you to start this?
I thought it was a great way to connect photography with my love for music. I'd been thinking
about something deeper than the musician's
face or them with an instrument - which every
photographer can do - and thought about what
makes a musician special, unique, or outstanding. For guitarists, bassists, pianists, and other
instrumentalists, the hands are the last piece of
their body through which music is transported
to the instrument. They are the gateway to a
player's own sound. Plus, the huge amount of time
a musician spends practicing and playing affects
their hands, from string marks on fingertips to
bent fingers and deformed bones. Nobody else
has documented it in such detail.
When and where did you shoot the first
set of hands?
The first was my daughter, Lia, who's a bass
player. My first professional was Julie Slick,
bassist in the Adrian Belew Power Trio. I shot
them same day, in my living room, while we
were recording their band, SAM. The idea came
to me when Lia and Julie were comparing hands
and talking about how practicing was affecting
them. I experimented with light, background,
and depth of field on a simple setup. The pictures
were really bad, but it was a beginning. A few
years later, I did a re-shoot of Julie's hands with
Adrian and drummer Tobias Ralph.
The hands of
(top) and Al
Lenser Twists Musician Portraiture
n 2012, photographer Marc Mennigmann
conceived of shooting musician portraits in
a very different way - looking beyond faces and
instruments. The result is the Hands Project,
a growing collection of images focused on
Also a pianist and Chapman Stick player,
Mennigmann realized that most casual fans
don't realize the role played by their hero's
hands. So, when the opportunity arises, he
takes his beloved Leica Monochrom, a small
outboard flash, white background, and a few
minutes to position each subject's hands a few
ways. For each pose, he pushes the shutter once
or twice. So far, more than 200 have taken part
including guitarists Joe Satriani, Mike Stern,
Al Di Meola, Ike Willis, and Pat Martino,
as well as bassists Lee Sklar, Billy Sheehan,
Rhonda Smith, Stu Hamm, and Bakithi
Kumalo (to see a list, visit hands-project.de/
Mennigmann has auctioned prints signed
by the musicians, exhibited at galleries in
Germany and Portugal, and is looking for a
They're mostly excited, and it helps when
I show them a mock-up of the book, which
illustrates the quality of the pictures. The
reaction to their photo is always touching even
though the display on my camera is very small.
These are portraits, and in them musicians find
themselves in a new, very private way because
the hands tell their stories.
Not every musician has a clear visual of the
result, so I talk to them about their style - if
they use a pick, which fingers they use, position of their fingers. Within a few minutes, we
sculpt a picture. Billy Sheehan knew his pose
right away, others need guidance. In those
moments, I don't see myself as the artist; I'm
more a catalyst. David Rhodes liked his shot
so much he used it on his new homepage.
Drummer Peter Erskine wrote a touching
e-mail in response to his picture; he really
understood the concept, so I asked if he could
write a foreword for the book, which he did.
I could do several books with all the great
musicians out there. It's so much fun working
with them and giving them something back
with their portrait. - Ward Meeker
Marc Mennigman: Peter Hurley.
What is the typical reaction amongst
performers you approach for the project?