Nash’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Photo Exhibit a Hit

Eric Metzler gives instructions to students before entering MOPA

By Marcia E. Gawecki

Baby Boomers are going to love this photography exhibit.

Imagine seeing candid photos all of your favorite rock ‘n’ roll bands with their “hair down,” and vunerable waiting backstage, and then see their sweaty, electric performances close-up like you’d never see them before. Or, catch them after the concerts, exhausted and numb “zoning” on the bus or back in their hotel rooms.

“Taking Aim: Unforgettable Rock ‘n’ Roll Photographs Selected by Graham Nash,” is the current exhibit at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park in San Diego. The show continues until Sept. 26.

“There isn’t a bad picture in the bunch,” said Eric Metzler, head of the Photography Department at Idyllwild Arts. He falls into the Baby Boomer category, but he took a group of 10 teenage photography students to see the show on Tuesday, July 20.

For many reasons, taking photographs of the exhibit was not allowed.

There were more than 100 mostly black-and-white photographs, as seen through the eyes of 40 legendary photographers including Lynn Goldsmith, Annie Leibovitz, Henry Diltz, Jim Marshall, Neal Preston, Mick Rock, and Graham Nash, among others.

“What was neat about this exhibit was there were photographers that I had never heard of before,” said Metzler, who has been teaching photography for more than two decades.

Many of the standout photos of this “Take Aim” exhibit were taken by lesser-known photographers, like Alfred Wertheimer, Joel Bernstein, Bob Gruen, Lew Allen, Anton Corbijn, and Jurgen Vollmer.

In fact, the exhibit’s “showcase” photo of Elvis eating breakfast at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, VA, was taken by Werthheimer. The photo shows a close-up of a young Elvis, hair slicked back, blazer on, eating bacon and eggs. Elvis’ eyes are downcast, more interested in the meal, than posing for a photo. He looked like an angel eating breakfast.

According to the web site, the photos in this exhibit depict Graham Nash’s view of rock ‘n’ roll music, and showcase images of live concerts and behind-the-scene shots by The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Jimi Hendrix, and Bill Haley & the Comets, among many others.

We knew that Graham Nash, from Crosby, Stills and Nash, could sing, but who knew that he could also take pictures?

“You can get many great shots when people don’t know that you’re really taking their image,” said Graham Nash, a quote that was printed on the wall of the exhibit.

Summer students said they enjoyed the exhibit

Metzler admitted that the “Take Aim” content would appeal mostly to Baby Boomers.  Most of the rock ‘n’ roll groups were from the fifties, sixties, and seventies. But he said that he saw photos from bands from 2003 that would appeal to a younger audience.

Part of the summer students’ assignment was to examine one photograph for clarity, depth of field, composition, and other aspects of good photography, and write their opinions on it. After 30 minutes of looking them over, each student selected a different photograph.

Most of the ones that I liked had mostly to do with rock ‘n’ roll history. For example, a memorable photo of John Lenon and Yoko Ono, taken by Annie Liebowitz, depicts their relationship. It features Yoko, fully clothed, lying on the floor of their NYC apartment, hair spread out like the Venus di Milo. By contrast, John is totally nude, kissing and clinging to her like a baby possum.Yet, what most people don’t know (until this exhibit), is that this photo was taken only a few hours before John Lenon was shot to death.

MOPA wouldn't allow any photos to be taken of their current "Take Aim" exhibit

Nash and his curator did a nice job of grouping photos. For example, they placed a photo of Bob Dylan’s hands just below a photo of Johnny Lee Hooker’s hands. Johnny Lee’s hands were open, palms up, depicting many lines, or a hard road. In one of Bob Dylan’s hands was a lit cigarette, nearly down to the butt. His nails were long, especially the ring finger on his right hand. The left hand was turned over, nonexpressive.

Nash also coupled two photos of Janis Joplin, one by the well-known Jim Marshall, while the other by the lesser-known Elliott Landy. Marshall’s photo depicts a young Janis backstage, all dressed up, yet still defiant. On her lap rests a full bottle of Southern Comfort.

Landy’s photo shows a close-up of Janis Joplin onstage, singing into a microphone. Her hair is frizzed, her eyes are closed, and her right breast has fallen out of her beaded top. Although Marshall’s photo shows a vunerably, Landy’s depiction of Joplin onstage is personal and a bit vunerable too. She is so caught up in the song, that she’s unaware of her “wardrobe malfunction.”

Although there was a couple of photos of Cass Elliot from the 60s vocal group, The Mamas & the Papas, photos of John Phillips was noticeably absent. Perhaps Nash didn’t want to stir up negative feelings after John’s actor daughter, Mackenzie Phillips, recently came out with her incest book. For my part, I was glad not to see him grinning.

Of all the stage antics in these “Take Aim” photos, the ones I liked the best were of Elton John doing a handstand on the piano keyboard, while his platform shoes were flying in the air, and the one of Bill Haley (of Bill Haley & the Comets) playing guitar, while his bass player was standing on top of his bass while playing.

MOPA is located in Balboa Park, the site of many museums and attractions

“Taking Aim: Unforgettable Rock ‘n’ Roll Photographs Selected by Graham Nash,” will continue at the Museum of Photographic Arts until Sept. 26.

The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but it’s closed on Mondays. For more information, call (619) 238-7559 or visit

Metler’s class will also showcase their photos that they’ve taken over the past two weeks today from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Studio D on the Idyllwild Arts campus. For more information, call (951) 659-2171.

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