My life to date has been a series of left turns that have somehow always moved me closer to what it is I enjoy about being alive. I never had a plan other than to follow my instincts. One thing I have always embraced is the collaborative experience with other creative souls. It interests me much more than the solitary act of creation. My interest in photography began when at 9 years old I took a nine week darkroom activity at summer camp in my hometown of Santa Cruz, CA. I remember being utterly fascinated by the whole process. The magic that happened under the safe lights is something I will never forget. When camp was over and I returned to school and found an old Brownie camera of my Dad’s and began capturing images of my friends and family. My parents encouraged my interests and soon allowed me to use the family Rolleiflex with which I learned the basics of exposure and aperture settings. Soon I had talked my next door neighbor, Richard, into starting a photo developing and printing company to service our neighborhood. Ri-Mac Photo wasn’t a giant success but we did get the dark room built in my parents garage and we had some killer business cards.
On my 12
th birthday my parents gave me a Kalimar 35mm fixed focus camera and that same year I persuaded my elementary school to install a B&W darkroom in a rarely used storage room. In high school I upgraded to a 35mm Exacta single-lens reflex and shot pictures for the year book. The summer of 1967 found me in Afghanistan mountain climbing and trying my best to take the perfect “National Geographic” shot. My artistic epiphany came in 1969 when I was an exchange student at an all-black college, Tougaloo in Jackson, Mississippi. When I arrived at the college there was a package waiting for me from my father - a brand new 35mm Pentax single-lens reflex camera. The combination of a good tool, a new experience and probably a little personal maturation started me thinking about using the camera more as tool of artistic expression and less a method of chronicling what was happening around me.
After college I hitchhiked around the country and spent time on various communes in New Mexico and I always had my camera with me. Late one afternoon in 1970 I was hitchhiking outside of Albuquerque and was picked up by the production manager for Crosby, Stills & Nash, Steven Cohen. As it turned out he was heading for Pescadero, CA which was 30 miles from my destination, Santa Cruz. We hit it off immediately and by the time he dropped me at home 3 days later we had formed a tight friendship. He was involved in producing the Big Sur Folk Festival the following weekend and offered me a job as a “runner”. I leaped at the opportunity and threw every ounce of my being into it. The result was a 20+ year career in rock ‘n roll. My first official job on tour in 1971 was as an assistant truck driver and my last in 1991 was as tour manager for Crosby, Stills & Nash.
I first met Graham Nash one evening in San Francisco when the lead truck driver and I stopped off at Graham’s house to pick up his guitars on our way to the bands first performance in Portland, OR. I was a huge fan of Crosby, Stills and Nash and didn’t know what to expect. He was instantly and genuinely friendly and gracious. He was having a party that night and I will never forget him taking me around the room and introducing me as “my friend, Mac Holbert”. That night I met Joni Mitchell, Arthur Garfunkel, Michael Douglas, Dave Mason and others. But what impressed me more than anything else was what an interesting and truly remarkable human being Graham was. I think both of us knew at that first meeting we were destined to be best of friends.
After that first tour I moved to San Francisco to an apartment next door to Graham’s house. Graham house was former 4 story Victorian that four years of remodeling had turned into a work of art. There was a large recording studio, a billiard room, a movie theatre and a high-end darkroom. When we were off the road much of our time was spent in the darkroom experimenting with various “traditional” processes. I remember the night when Graham and I won a bet with some friends visiting from Los Angeles when we created a camera, used it to create a negative and then printed an 8” X 10” B&W print in less than half an hour. The camera was a match box with a pinhole for a lens and we did it all, from no camera to finished print, in 21 minutes!
It was around this time that we began to notice that many of the papers and films we preferred were being discontinued. Graham’s refrigerator was quickly being filled up with photographic materials as we bought up as much of the discontinued stock as we could. Luckily for us, the digital revolution was just around the corner.
Hanging with Graham has always been a creative experience. On tour the two of us were prone to avoiding the late night partying in favor of plenty of rest so that our days were available for hitting the local museums, bookstores and galleries. In addition to his passion for photography Graham also had a voracious appetite for fine art prints from M.C. Escher to German Expressionist wood-cuts. We both appreciated how the paper the image was printed could contribute to the aesthetic appreciation of that image. The right combination could enhance an image significantly. “Surface” was something that we both felt was limited in the world of the darkroom.
I had stopped carrying my camera full time when I got involved in rock ‘n roll. The all-encompassing nature of my work made it difficult to do both. I still took an occasional shot but I spent much more time looking at images. I learned more about image making in my 20 years on the road than I did in the previous ten years of shooting.
In 1979 I was introduced to computers and my world changes. My job at the time was creating the budgets necessary for a successful musical tour. Everything was done by hand with a pencil, an eraser and a sheet of accounting paper. One thing that was constant in rock ‘n roll was change. Everyday things changed. Musicians and crew were added to the tour, vendors fell out, shows were added, shows were cancelled. Any alteration had to be updated by hand over the entire budget. A fellow tour manager, Stephen DePaul, visited my office one day and brought with him an Apple IIe with an upgrade CP/M card that allowed it to run an early spreadsheet program called VisiCalc. This piece of software performed miracles! If you added or subtracted an employee from the tour budget the financial implications of that alteration automatically updated – hotels, salaries, travel expenses, per diem – EVERYTHING! Budgets now were capable of being updated frequently, accurately and easily. One could quickly calculate the cost of adding an extra employee or the implication of adding in a day off. The computer and it’s “killer application” fundamentally changed the way we did business! From this point on computers became part of my daily life. New applications became available and began to handle other aspects of running a tour. By 1983 the Tandy TRS 80 Model 100 became standard issue and was used, in conjunction with a private fee-based entertainment network, to communicate with the management, travel agents and agency personnel. Tour updates could be “emailed” and box office figures could be sent electronically to business managers.
My first encounter with digital imaging happened in the Spring of 1985 when I purchased a Thunderscan scanner. This clever device converted a printer into a scanner. By replacing the ink cartridge of an Apple ImageWriter with the Thunderscan module your dot-matrix printer could be temporarily transformed into a high-resolution (for the times) scanner! The device was excruciatingly slow but it created a remarkably high quality scan. I started scanning everything in sight including photographs. Our normally bland itinerary covers now sported humorous takeoffs of Crosby, Stills & Nash as the 3 Stooges or as Los Angeles’s famous Pep Boys, Manny, Moe and Jack. It didn’t take long for Graham to become curious about how I was capturing and manipulating images. He soon purchased a ThunderScanner of his own and began doing rudimentary scanning and imaging on his own images. By Fall of 1988 Graham had begun to realize the shortcomings of his existing system and he asked me to help him put together a high end scanning and imaging system. I did some research and suggested that he purchase an Apple IIx , a RastorOps 24 bit Color monitor and a Truvel Scanner. It was a very expensive but very cutting edge setup for the time. He immediately began scanning in existing B&W darkroom prints and colorized them using a French software (Graphis?} whose name now escapes me. Soon after we set up his system he acquired a copy of "Digital Darkroom" by Silicon Beach which provided him with unprecedented control over his monochromatic scans. He continued to edit and manipulate his images for several months and then he confronted a problem that he had not foreseen. He had created an image that he felt particularly proud of and wanted me to see it. I was living in Santa Cruz, CA at the time, 350 miles north of Graham's studio in Encino, CA. He called me one evening and expressed great frustration about not being able to share his images with me. He wanted my advice in "getting the image out of the computer". What followed not only solved his problem but became the foundation and the genesis of Nash Editions. That night we discussed various possibilities from photographing the screen to outputting on wax thermal printers. Over the next few months Graham investigated numerous ways of outputting his "trapped" images. Although most of the methods allowed one to see the image, it was not an aesthetic translation. Just when it seemed like nothing was going to work Graham stumbled across JetGraphix at UCLA. JetGraphix had been set up by UCLA professor Mits Kataoka. On one of his trips to Japan he saw a new Fujix printer at the Fuji factory. Fuji later donated three of the machines to UCLA, which formed the basis of JetGraphix. Although JetGraphic was set up as a service bureau for graphics a few artists including Robert Heinecken utilized it's services. The first attempt to print one of Graham’s, a portrait of Neil Young was very encouraging. The Fuji process allowed one to print on what appeared to be a fine art paper which was far more aesthetically pleasing than the “slick” stock all the other digital processes required. The dot pattern was coarse and the color gamut was limited but for the first time we were able to partially realize our vision on paper. It was a great step forward and in many ways truly the beginning of Nash Editions.