Henry Diltz with some of the many album covers he photographed. | Credit: Courtesy

Henry Diltz, sharp-eyed photographer to the boomer folk-rock stars, is anything but a war photographer, but he has built up an iconic body of work on the proverbial front lines. To be more specific, he was there on the “front lines” of counterculture turned mainstream pop culture in the late ’60s and early ’70s, capturing and staging imagery now deeply etched in the pop-culture collective unconscious.

As seen in Diltz’s latest local exhibition, Music Is Love, at Solvang’s Elverhøj Museum, images can suggest sounds and nostalgia and tickle other senses. Many of the show’s ultra-familiar images wound up on landmark pop albums — including the Crosby, Stills & Nash debut album, The Doors’ Morrison Hotel, James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James, and Stephen Stills’s first solo album. A tight shot of Paul and Linda McCartney, which landed on the cover of Life magazine in 1971, is another instantly recognizable and instantly lovable sight.

Seeing these pictures again in living, clean-printed color on a museum wall reflexively triggers musical memories. In fact, on the afternoon I visited the always-inviting museum, Diltz’s dreamy shot of the Bohemian-attired Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock resonated with the in-gallery sound of Hendrix’s dulcet-toned psychedelia, in the form of such songs as “Wait Until Tomorrow.”

To paraphrase another Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young) album, seeing Diltz’s work can also trigger a kind of déjà vu all over again. The folk musician turned high-profile photographer’s striking cavalcade of pop-culture photos, both official and casual, have often been seen in the Santa Barbara area, in gallery spaces and also in slideshow form at the Tales from the Tavern series and elsewhere.

What gives an added poignancy to the timing — and titling — of this latest show is its proximity to January’s passing of longtime Santa Ynez resident David Crosby. Crosby was a long-standing friend and subject of Diltz, and it was Crosby’s hypnotic, mantra-like song “Music Is Love” — from his masterpiece solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name — that provides the show its apt title. One corner of the exhibition is devoted to Crosby, with his impish radical humor in tow. The best-known of this small group of photos is a 1971 shot of the mustachioed “Croz,” with a joint between his lips and a gun-shaped flag origami aimed at his temple, looking perfectly deadpan.

Another tribute to a recently belated musical legend appears in the form of a Tina Turner concert image, with the energized rock ’n’ roll queen drenched in sweat and a palpably ecstatic sheen. By contrast, Diltz’s ability to bring unpretentious intimacy to his work finds expression in shots of Neil Young at his ranch — unused photos from the Harvest shoot — and Joni Mitchell peering out of a window in the Laurel Canyon house that was the inspiration for then-boyfriend Graham Nash’s classic “Our House.” In an even more close-up and friendly shot, Mitchell, Crosby, Eric Clapton, and an unidentified toddler lounge on the Laurel Canyon lawn — predecessor to Mitchell’s Hissing of Summer Lawns imagery?

Given the familiarity of many of the images in this Diltz show, some of the more eye-catching images fall under the category of “deep cuts,” versus the “greatest hits” from the canon. By those terms, my two favorite and surprising images in Music Is Love reflect the natural diversity of gigs in Diltz’s image bank. A stunning and enigmatic action shot of Kurt Cobain at the Forum in Los Angeles in 1993, shortly before his death, finds the charismatic musician in frozen intensity, hair flung wildly in red light and the angel prop from the cover of In Utero standing vigil in the background.

A bit disarmingly, we also find Diltz shifting boldly away from his more naturalistic style into the stuff of kitschy fantasy for a stage shot of David Cassidy — as football stud — flanked by yellow-costumed UCLA cheerleaders.

These images, too, abide by the adage that “music is love,” from very different corners of the rock multiverse.

Music Is Love runs through August 13. See elverhoj.org.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.