Behind the Camera Lens of a Former Rock Star

Stepping into the sparse, clean exhibition halls of the San Diego Museum of Photographic Arts feels like falling into the pages of an artist’s journal. You wander through white space and pause to lean forward and squint at a small, framed window into another time, another place, another life.

All photos courtesy of the Museum of Photographic Arts
Still life: Crosby, Stills & Nash member Graham Nash’s photographs of tour friends (Joni Mitchell, top left; David Crosby, bottom left) and strangers are showcased at the Museum of Photographics Arts in Balboa Park through April 30.

This life currently belongs to Graham Nash, the 63-year-old singer/songwriter of Crosby, Stills & Nash fame and collector of an ensemble of black-and-white photographs from his personal life titled “Eye to Eye: Photographs by Graham Nash.”

The exhibit opened Friday, Jan. 13, in a reception buzzing with MOPA’s loyal members and local press. The silver-haired photography and digital-printing pioneer carried the poise of a pedagogue and the confident smile of a world-weary rock star amid a swarm of photographers, Chanel-scented socialites and society-page writers. “Eye to Eye” made a subtle yet intense debut: A myriad of black-and-white digital prints document a good five decades of Nash’s incredible yet simple life.

Nash is famous for being a key member of the Hollies in the 1960s, one of the UK’s most successful pop groups, and then leaving the group at the height of their fame to form Crosby, Stills & Nash with friends David Crosby and Stephen Stills.

With Crosby, Stills & Nash, he achieved even greater worldwide success, and started collecting photographs in the 1970s. In the 1990s, Nash sold his collection to co-found Nash Editions, a digital fine-arts lithographic firm that uses some of the most advanced digital photographic and printing equipment available.

The exhibit features portraits, even snapshots, of people doing everyday things in their everyday lives — except these people are David Crosby (affectionately referred to as “Croz” in all of Nash’s commentaries), Joni Mitchell, Twiggy, Jerry Garcia and Neil Young, to name a few. These intimate peeks into the musician’s life are surprisingly mundane, with the proverbial hotel room playing a large role in staging. Mitchell looks on forlornly in a dark studio; Garcia spaces out on stage; Crosby sits on a park bench. Each photograph offers a moment of extraordinary humanness inside legendary lives.

More interesting are the descriptions accompanying each piece, where Nash situates the photograph in time and place. These descriptions are like scribbles in a journal, carrying a certain level of sentimentality and banality in them, such as: “Self-portrait taken just after watching the World Trade Center collapse. I was awakened by friend Barry Ollman in the Teatro Hotel, Denver, CO 2001” and “My girlfriend Calli Cerami helped me to make this self-portrait taken at the Plaza Hotel, NYC, at the end of the first CSNY stadium tour, 1974.”

The visitors were equally as enthralled with his quips as they were with his photographs, both forming a secret keyhole where the viewer can peek into life inside celebrity.

“Eye to Eye” runs through April 30 at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.