Musician Graham Nash

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and accomplished photographer explains how he marries his love of music with his love of images.

Graham Nash was a founding member of the Hollies and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young—in its various formations—and has created music that still endures. At a young age, the Grammy winner decided to pursue his two passions: music and photography. Nash is a published photographer, whose work has been exhibited around the world, and co-founder of one of the world's leading fine art photographic printmaking houses. For the volume Taking Aim, he selected photographs of some of the world's most recognizable musicians.



Tavis: Pleased to welcome Graham Nash back to this program. The legendary member of Crosby, Stills and Nash is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, of course, and now out with a new book of photography called “Taking Aim,” unforgettable rock and roll photographs selected by Graham Nash. Before we get to the text, here is a recent performance from Graham and David Crosby with their classic song, “Immigration Man.”
Tavis: That, of course, you and David Crosby. The word on the street is – you can either confirm or deny – but the word is that the three of you are back in the studio?
Graham Nash: Kind of, yes. We’ve been rehearsing. We did 66 shows last year in several countries, so it was tough to get into the studio. But, yeah, we’re working on a project, yes.
Tavis: You think that the world right now could use some more protest songs with all that’s going on? How might we be benefited in this era with more protest music?
Nash: I think the world’s media learned after Vietnam that you could not put body counts on television while people were eating their steak dinner. It didn’t work, and people got upset about it. You know, there were body counts every night.
Through Walter Cronkite, you saw footage of dead soldiers. Ever since Vietnam, you’ve never seen that. You never saw it in Panama, you never saw it in Granada, you never saw it in Iraq, you know, the first two wars. You never saw it in Afghanistan. You couldn’t even photograph coffins, flag-draped, coming home.
Tavis: To Dover Air Force Base, exactly.
Nash: Yeah, so they learned. And my point is that protest songs have always been there, but the people that run the world’s media don’t want to hear any of that. They just want us to be sheep and we’re not good at being sheep. We like to speak our minds about things that are going on that affects us all very definitely.
Tavis: Those persons listening and watching right now who will see this interview in some other form or hear it in some other form, who are writers themselves, want to have something to say in their lyrical content about what’s happening in the world.
Not that one writer should tell somebody else what to write, but what kinds of things you think that those who have something to say ought to be addressing right now with regard to the countenance of your face?
Nash: I see a tremendous lack of manners nowadays. You know, opening doors for ladies, all the things that you were taught as a child to be a decent member of society. Just on a very basic level, I see a lot of anger. I see a lot of hatred. I see a lot of racism. I see a society that, on the surface, looks like it’s imploding.
There was a very interesting book written called “The Twilight of American Culture” where a man studied each of the major empires, you know, from the Scythians through the Egyptians through the Greeks through the English. He plotted four or five reasons why major empires fail.
It was very interesting, you know, the list of things. Destruction of the language, destruction of the financial pillars of society, destruction of the religious pillars of society, common decency and common sense. It all seems to be disappearing.
Tavis: So to your point now – and I’m glad you’re saying this because I think we’re on the same page here – it’s difficult for us in this country, given our patriotism – some people, not me, I hope – our nationalism, and this notion that disturbs me of American exceptionalism in the world.
I say all that to say that it’s hard for us in that arena, given those realities, to accept that empires do fall, that empires do fail. So sometimes that arrogance and that American hubris gets in the way. We think that there’s no way the American empire could fall or fail. So I’m glad you lay out these four factors that cause empires to fall or to fail, and we are smack dab in the middle –
Nash: – looks like we’re four out of five right now.
Tavis: Absolutely. So I raise all that to ask whether or not there’s anything we can do then to fend off this implosion?
Nash: I think you have to start with yourself.
Tavis: Right.
Nash: I think, if you start with yourself and try and sort your own life out, try and live decently, try and live as a decent person and the spread that to your wife or your husband and your family and your friends, and take care of the area around you. If you see something that’s wrong, if you see a tin can in the middle of something, go pick it up. Take care of the area around you.
I seem to always come back to if I want to change the world, I have to change myself. I have to be what I want the world to be.
Tavis: Perfect segue to the book, I think, because I was just saying this to some people on a panel I was participating in the other day that I celebrate our artists more than anybody else in the world because artists have a unique way of connecting us to the humanity in each of us.
Nash: Yes, hopefully so.
Tavis: Hopefully so. Let’s put it that way. At their best, they connect us to our humanity. Is there a way that photography can help us see, revel in, celebrate, our humanity? Because some of these pictures are pretty powerful.
Nash: Yes, they are pretty powerful. I wanted to show in this book, which was started by my friend Michael Jenson who suggested that I do this many years ago, and Jason Emmons who put the EMP up in Seattle took the first show. I wanted to show the energy of rock and roll.
There are many incredible images that have been taken that almost are like protest songs. I mean, John Filo’s portrait of the woman over the slain student at Kent State, for instance, that was on the cover of “Life” magazine, I think. There have been some incredible photographs taken that move you as much as a song will move you.
In this particular book, I wanted to show every side of the energy of rock and roll from its franticness to its complete serenity.
Tavis: Tell me about this cover. Jonathan, give me the cover of the book because I’m always fascinated whenever I see a book of photographs. I’ve been in one of these myself and the most difficult part is always trying to figure out what that cover shot is going to be. So dissect for me this cover shot and why it made the cover of “Taking Aim.”
Nash: This is Elvis Costello being completely irreverent. I mean, he’s sitting –
Tavis: – isn’t he always (laugh)?
Nash: Always, you know.
Tavis: I love Elvis here.
Nash: Yes, we almost – all are bizarre. But in this particular image taken by Anton Corbijn, he was in a train somewhere. But even in a train, he wanted to be active. You know, the rest of the shot, he’s got a very small amplifier on his bed and he’s rocking and rolling even though he’s, you know, almost in bed.
Tavis: When you said a moment ago that you wanted the book to showcase the energy of rock and roll, what energy do you see in this photo?
Nash: This one is “I’m doing exactly what I want to do with my life. Come and join me.” I mean, look at him. He looks slightly arrogant. He looks very comfortable as to where he is. He’s a tremendous artist, Elvis. I have great respect for Elvis Costello.
Tavis: I do as well, and so do a whole bunch of other fans, obviously, around the world. How did you get into photography? How did Graham Nash get turned on by this art form?
Nash: I’ve been making images longer than I’ve been making music.
Tavis: Wow.
Nash: In my book, “Eye to Eye,” which was my first book, the first portrait in that is of my mother that I took when I was ten years old. I captured something in my mother – I thought I knew my mother. I mean, everyone does think they know their mother. But I saw her in this moment and I captured it with the camera and later realized that it was probably my first good photograph.
I’d captured something in my mother that I’d never seen before. I’d captured a look in her eye and a moment in her life that was very private and very intimate and I managed to have the courage to have my camera there with me at the time. That was the very first photograph and it was taken when I was ten.
Tavis: To your point now, Graham, do you love taking photographs for whatever reason or reasons, or is it about trying to find that image that you just described? Trying to find that moment?
Nash: Yes. It’s trying to find that moment. I do it with all of my life. I want to be the best person I can be. I want to be the best friend, the best husband, the best father I can be. We never make it, of course, 100 percent, but at least I’m trying to be a decent person.
I have found all my life that I’ve been able to talk about my feelings, talk about what’s happening to me, shooting my mouth off, you know, and I’ve been incredibly lucky.
It’s been over 50 years for me now and it shows no sign of slowing down whatsoever. I continue to keep my camera with me because I’m always waiting for Elvis Presley to come back on the back of an elephant around the corner (laugh) and I just want to be there with my camera when he does.
Tavis: You want to get that shot, huh (laugh)? To your point now, how have you over these decades, these years, married the music and the photography, even though you started taking pictures first?
Nash: It’s all the same energy for me.
Tavis: Okay.
Nash: A lot of people say, “How does a musician take photographs?” You know, how many –
Tavis: – I ask that because some folk around the world, believe it or not, know you as a photographer.
Nash: Correct.
Tavis: Even before they know you as an artist.
Nash: Right, yeah. It’s the same energy to me. I don’t care where I’m pointing my spirit or pointing my soul or pointing my eyes or my ears. I want to be there at that moment. I’m not interested in taking photographs that match my couch. I’m not interested in taking, you know, kittens with balls of wool. I’m more interested in moments that disappear in a fleeting second if you’re not there to capture it.
Tavis: Well, he’s captured a few along with some other great photography. This is not just all your work. There’s some other great photographers in here as well.
Nash: Indeed, many.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. It’s a new book from rock and roll legend, Graham Nash. The book is called “Taking Aim: Unforgettable Rock and Roll Photographs.” Graham, always good to have you on the program, and thanks for this great piece of work.
Nash: You’re welcome, Tavis. It’s always a pleasure to be here.
Tavis: My pleasure as well. Thank you.
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Last modified: October 15, 2013 at 11:38 pm