Michael Jackson’s favorite for photographing himself and his children.
By Gayl Murphy
HOLLYWOOD, CA (Hollywood Today) 9/3/11 — Award-winning celebrity photographer Jonathan Exley–best known as Michael Jackson’s favorite photographer for over a decade, died at his home in Los Angeles, August, 29th, from complications due to liver failure, he was 63 years old.
Exley was one of the most sought-after photographer’s by some of the most iconic stars in Hollywood, as well as best-selling authors, sports figures, politicians and musicians.
His long list of superstars includes some of the most famous faces in the world. Lauren Bacall, Jerry Seinfeld, Marcel Marceau, Cameron Diaz, President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, Annette Benning, Jamie Foxx, Billy Jean King, Isabella Rossalini, Rick Mears, Marlon Brando, John Stamos, Kevin Costner, Terri Hatcher, Helio Castroneves, Marlee Matlin, Roger Pensky, Mena Suvari, Nicole Kidman and his dear friends Kathy Ireland and Jason Priesly among others. Many of these photo sessions produced lifelong friendships, in and out of the studio.
As an artist, it was Exley’s ability to capture light, work fast–and most importantly–grab the human soul in that “instant of honesty,” that made his photographs so unique.
Born in Connecticut, Exley served in the Navy and arrived in California with raw talent and a camera. His early career centered around music’s cultural zeitgeists an include; Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Chris Issak, Stevie Wonder, Crystal Gayle, Whitney Houston, Alice Cooper, Warren Zevon, and Michael Jackson.
In some cases, he’d not only photographed his subjects, he also designed memorable book covers and album and CD jackets for Jackson Brown, Warren Zevon, Alice Cooper, and The Tubes.
It was in an interview at Michael’s passing that Exley spoke of what it was like about working with Jackson; describing him as “One of his favorite subjects.” “I traveled the world with him, and fostered a collaborative creative partnership. Working with Michael Jackson was like working with a partner. Michael bestowed on me a most inspirational message, which I have tried to make a reality…’nothing is impossible!’”
Exley photographed authors including some of best known of our time; Neil Simon, the late Michael Crichton, Jonathan Kellerman, Terry McMillan and Richard North Patterson.
His iconic photographs have been seen on countless TV and magazine covers, as well as in the pages of, hundreds of magazines around the world, including Rolling Stone and People Magazine’s annual “50 Most Beautiful People” editions.
Exley’s most outstanding photo triumph is his collection of over three-hundred stunning guitar photographs he created that fill the pages of the coffee table book, With Strings Attached: The Art and Beauty of Vintage Guitars, published by Random House and featuring essays by Jonathan Kellerman. These gorgeous guitar images are metaphorical in every sense of the word, both lyrical and musical at the same time–thereby changing the very fabric of the way instruments should be photographed.
Exley’s natural aptitude for precision and speed were inherited from his dad, George, resulting in his lifelong love of racecar driving; of which, he personally won several awards, including the SCCA Sports Car Club of America trophy for finishing 2nd in his class.
One of his favorite longtime clients, ‘Marlboro Team Penske Racing’ proved the perfect fit for his full-throttle excitement for capturing life’s moments on the racetrack. This led to his innovative and prominently featured photo installation, the ‘taxi tunnel racetrack photo collage’, located at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas, which, in itself, has become a tourist attraction.
His outstanding body of work not only earned him recognition and endorsements from both Kodak film and Hasselblad cameras; he was also a speaker and seminar leader on behalf of Hasselblad at Brooks Institute and other colleges and expos around the world.
Exley was honored with two coveted ‘American Photography Awards’, as well as recognition from the ‘Art Directors Club of Los Angeles,’ ‘Art Directors Magazines’ and the most prestigious ‘Graphics Annual’.
He is survived by his daughter, Alexandra Exley. His unfinished book, “Life in a Still Frame,” will be completed by his daughter.
Jonathan Exley’s images can be viewed at