Graham Nash was taking photographs long before he became known as a musician, as he tells Charles Hutchinson.

YOU will know Graham Nash from The Hollies and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. You may know of him as a political campaigner, involved in peace protests, environmental and child welfare issues.

You may well not know of his prowess as a photographer, a lifetime's private pleasure that has only latterly been given a public airing, with the encouragement of fellow musician Joni Mitchell.

This has culminated in his Eye To Eye exhibition and accompanying book of the same title featuring 187 photographs from a stock of 20,000.

The exhibition, curated at the Richard Goodall Gallery in Manchester last year, can be seen at Nunnington Hall, near Helmsley, until April 17.

"You have to understand something," says Graham, speaking on the phone during his stay in Britain while playing dates with David Crosby. "I've been making photographs longer than I've been making music. The first picture in the Eye To Eye is a portrait I took when was 11 - and it is a pretty good picture otherwise it wouldn't be in there!"

Graham, who now lives in Hawaii, was brought up and educated in Blackpool, Lancashire.

However, what matters most to him was self-taught, especially music and photography. "I've never taken lessons in anything I do. When I open a computer package I don't read the booklet; I don't think any of my friends in music can read music. You can talk or say what you want," he says.

Now 63, Graham has taken pictures for more than 50 years and, during his world travels, his camera is as omnipresent as his guitars.

"Photography is kind of like music to me," he says in his book. "And what is writing music but sculpting with air? With photography I'm just sculpting with silver nitrate."

He photographs in classical black and white, shooting intimate portraits of fellow musicians Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Joni Mitchell; concert performances by Bob Dylan and Taj Mahal in a wide-brim hat; idiosyncratic self-portraits through the years and changing hairstyles "to verify my existence"; and conceptual images of urban life, often with a humorous, playful or ironic twist.

Why favour black and white, Graham? "I know what the reason is," he says emphatically. "I see in colour, I never see in black and white, and to me photographs are more photographic when they're in black and white."

However, he is not antediluvian in his photographic philosophy. "I always try to be at both ends of technological development. For instance, I used to collect classic photographs and I sold one of the biggest collections ever," he says, referring to Sotheby's sale of his collection of rare works by Julia Margaret Cameron, Diane Arbus, Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson for $2.17 million - a record price at the time for a private photographic archive.

"I now collect daguerreotypes, photographs taken by an early process using copper plating, and at the same time I have the latest digital camera. I like the contrast but, in some ways, I think photography has gone down hill since the days of the daguerreotypes, which was the first time that anyone could see what they looked like, rather than just their reflection."

He says he is an instinctive photographer. "There's just something inside me that knows 'this is worth taking'. I keep my eyes open constantly and I try to make myself aware of things around me 360 degrees, full circle.

"It's as if I get up in the morning and I think there's a great picture waiting to be taken today, and I kind of will it to happen, constantly."

Eye To Eye, The Photography of Graham Nash, Nunnington Hall, near Helmsley, until April 17. Normal opening times and admission charges apply; tel 01439 748283. The book Eye To Eye is published by Steidl Verlag at £38; signed copies are available.

Updated: 08:55 Saturday, March 26, 2005