Graham Nash has been a photographer longer than a musician. At the recent PhotoExpo in New York City, Nash wore his photographer hat — showing his best images and telling stories about his lifetime of creative pursuits.
Nash was born in Blackpool, Lancashire, England in 1942 and grew up in a poor family in Salford. At the time, most of the employment in his town was either in mines or textile mills, but his parents encouraged him to ignore tradition and follow his heart when it came to his future.
When Nash was 10 years old, his father took him to a nearby zoo to demonstrate photography. After taking a picture and going home, Nash’s father covered a window with a blanket, put a blank sheet of paper into a colorless liquid and then held up the paper for his son to watch.
“He said, ‘wait, wait, wait’ as I stared at the blank paper,” Nash recalled. “Then, all of a sudden, the image my father had taken at the zoo appeared on the paper. It was magic! My life changed dramatically that day. It was then I began taking photographs.”
In the time just after World War II, Nash said most young men in his hometown followed in their fathers’ footsteps and worked for a lifetime for a local company. “But my parents never let me fall for that,” he said. “They recognized my creative passions in music and photography and encouraged me to pursue them rather than saying things like ‘get a real job’ or ‘this is not going to last.’”
In the early 1960s, Nash co-founded The Hollies, one of the UK's most successful pop groups, with a school friend, Allan Clarke. From there, he became a professional musician, while continuing to take photographs along the way.
“I’m driven to create,” Nash said. “My girlfriend and I create every day. I'm waiting for Elvis to come back and I'll be waiting with my camera at my side.”
Because he works as a musician and performs in front of thousands of fans, Nash is no stranger to having his image taken by others. But it’s not his personal approach to the medium of photography.
“I’ve had millions of photographs taken of me,” he said. “But every time I sense a camera is on me, I try to act like James Dean or Elvis. I try to put my best side forward, whatever the fuck that is. I don't like those moments. They are totally fake to me. I like to be invisible. I like to take photos of people who have no idea I'm there.”
Those stealthy photos are what drives Nash’s best photographic work. “I'm into surreal moments that happen in life. You have to be bold enough to have your camera and bold enough to press the trigger when the moment happens.”
One example is a 1969 candid shot of Joni Mitchell, then Nash’s live-in girlfriend in Laurel Canyon, while listening her new album, Clouds, which she had just finished recording. Mitchell was concentrating on the recording, while Nash sneaked the image through the back of a hole in a kitchen chair. He took a single shot that helped define Mitchell as an artist.
Another image, made in 1988, was taken at Neil Young’s Broken Arrow Ranch in Redwood City, California. Young is driving his Jensen sports car on a lonely road toward his house on the ranch grounds. Behind the car is a limousine carrying David Crosby, Steven Stills and Nash, who is standing and shooting from the roof of the limo. It is a solitary image that defined Young’s life at the time.
Though Nash uses his camera to catch life’s unposed moments, he is adamant in his disdain for selfies. “I hate selfies and all this selfie shit that's going on,” Nash said. “It drives me crazy. I don't use my camera as my memory.”
Nash collected more than 2,000 prints and they toured the world in museums for years as the Graham Nash Collection. He sold them in a Sotheby’s auction in 1990, setting an auction record at the time for the highest grossing sale of a single private collection of photography. He also was an early pioneer experimenting with digital images and inkjet printing.
Currently, Nash continues to experiment with a range of creative projects in additional to his musical activity performing and writing with Crosby, Stills and Nash.
“I have to get this stuff out of myself so it doesn't drive me crazy,” Nash said. “I’m so pleased to live in a country where I can express myself without fear of retribution. You can't do that in some other countries. Nobody has to listen to you, but at least you can speak your mind.”
Photos of Graham Nash by Frank Beacham