Q&A: Photo Stills and Nash

The man who put the N in CSN holds forth on pigs, kittens, and Neil Young.

Before Graham Nash ever picked up a guitar, he was introduced to photography by his father. On February 6, the latter third of CSN unveils "Taking Aim: Unforgettable Rock 'n' Roll Photographs Selected by Graham Nash" at EMP, an exhibit featuring photographers from Annie Leibovitz to Charles Peterson shooting subjects as varied as Neko Case, Elvis Presley, and Janis Joplin—with at least a couple photos Nash took himself.

More from this interview, including Nash's thoughts on working with super-producer Rick Rubin, can be found on our music blog, seattleweekly.com/reverb.

SW: What have you been up to today?

Nash: Well, I'm about to start rehearsing again for the second half of the Crosby, Stills, and Nash/Rick Rubin record that we're doing. Columbia Records requested something strange of us. They didn't want any Crosby, Stills, and Nash songs.

What did they want?

They wanted our vocal sound on songs that we wished we'd written.

What's that going to include?

Well, you know, the list is not final. I'm kind of hesitant to name individual songs in case they're not there. But things like "Close Your Eyes" by James Taylor, "Midnight Rider" [the Allman Brothers], "Ruby Tuesday" [the Rolling Stones], "Norwegian Wood" [the Beatles]. We're doing a bunch of songs that we love.

Have you been photographing anything in particular lately?

I never shoot anything in particular. I just shoot whatever appeals to me through the viewfinder. If I see a moment that I need to capture, I'll capture it. I tell you what I don't shoot, and that's kittens with balls of wool, images that match my couch. I don't do that.

But kittens with balls of wool are so popular on the Internet these days.

I know, I know. But it's not popular with me. I like completely surreal, insane moments that disappear instantly.

Is that what you were looking for in selecting photos for "Taking Aim"?

I did. I wanted energy. I wanted to be able to show the energy of rock and roll in all its forms, be it very still or incredibly chaotic.

Does rock photography have a tendency to perpetuate any misconceptions about rock and roll?

Good question. I think rock and roll's funkier than some of these photographs would make it seem. But it always has been very funky; ever since the day I started when I was 13 years old, it was funky. [We were] rehearsing in garages and rehearsing in places that didn't have electricity and didn't have heat. Rock and roll's funky, but I wanted to glorify it.

What do you look for in a photographer when you're hiring somebody to shoot your band?

Somebody that's invisible.

I hear artists talk sometimes about trusting a photographer. What does that mean—to produce flattering images?

Not necessarily, but to produce real images. Real images—"Oh, that was a moment when they hit that high note," CLICK. Got it.

Do you think concert photography is improving in the iPhone/cell camera era?


The fact that everybody's bringing a camera to the show, is that improving concert photography?

I guess you could call that concert photography. But they're using that as a memory, and I don't do that. I don't use my camera as my memory. I use my brain as my memory. I don't want to have a picture of me by the Eiffel Tower just because I was by the Eiffel Tower; it doesn't make sense to me. And that's what people are doing now. "Oh, I want to take a picture of my friend next to this pig." Well, just remember your friend next to that pig. Why do you have to take a picture of it?

How do you feel about people bringing cameras to shows?

It's disturbing to me, because they're not concentrating on the music. They're concentrating on the happening, the event of it, rather than the music.

The standard—shoot only during the first three songs, and then out—I'm assuming is the Crosby, Stills, and Nash photo policy.

It is.

Some of these pictures in your show, like Hendrix burning his guitar, are things that didn't take place during the first three songs. Are we missing out on moments like that?

Yes, absolutely.

You mentioned you're in the studio now with Stephen Stills and David Crosby. Does Neil Young have a standing invitation to come back?

Always. And he knows that. In fact, I'm expecting a call from him any minute.

How is the band different when he's in the room?

It's darker. It's edgier. It's more serious. I mean, we're always serious, but [Neil is] serious as a fucking heart attack. You better be on your game when you play with Neil.


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