William Claxton, 1927-2008

Word has just come in that William Claxton died on Saturday in Los Angeles of congestive
Clax.jpgheart failure. He was one day short of his eighty-first birthday. With his pictures of Chet Baker in the early 1950s, Claxton established himself as a brilliant photographer of jazz musicians and went on to a career as one of the most admired camera artists in the world. He did incomparable work not only in jazz, but also with a varied array of personalities including Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Igor Stravinsky, Fred Astaire, Joan Baez, Steve McQueen, Chris Rock and Benicio Del Toro.

Clax was a friend, a colleague, good company and — in a category that seems sparsely populated in our hard, fast world — a gentleman, meaning that he was kind, polite, honorable and unfailingly considerate.

Chet by Claxton.jpgTo see some of Bill Claxton’s work go here. This obituary from The Los Angeles Times includes a striking candid portrait of Clax by the Times’s Gary Friedman and one of Clax’s shots of McQueen. It does not include one of the Chet Baker photographs that helped make Chet and Claxton famous. The one to your left is from a session for Baker’s 1954 album Chet Baker And Strings

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  1. Paul Carpino says

    I am sad to hear of the passing of camera artist legend William Claxton. Years ago,I contacted him and asked him to offer his career advice to college students and others looking for success behind the camera. We never met, but he provided me with a two page letter sharing his
    career advice and wisdom. His contribution is now featured in the book,”Now, Launch Your Career.” I am truly grateful for his participation in my project. We’ll miss you Bill.

  2. Jim Miller says

    I spent a couple of years working with Bill while he was Art Director and I was a Senior Editor at Motor Trend. He was one of the most unassuming, charming people I’ve ever worked with. Both of us were movie buffs, and we often exchanged opinions about current films. I recall discussing Clint Eastwood’s biopic of Charlie Parker, “Bird.” It was five minutes into the conversation when I realized Bill wasn’t talking in generalities, and he actually knew Parker. Bill never let on, never bragged about his career in jazz or photography. It wasn’t until a good friend pulled out a copy of Bill’s book, Jazz, that I realized who I was actually working with. He was a true “gentle man” in the original sense of the word.