Photographer William Claxton died on Sunday at age 80. The cause was complications from congestive heart failure.
Much has been written about Claxton in recent years, and he has become a favorite in galleries and among a young generation of photographers who admired the stylish realism of his work. He’s best known for his photographs of jazz musicians such as Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and, most prominently, Chet Baker. One of his most famous images shows Baker at a piano keyboard, looking down, his face reflected in the black surface of the instrument. A shot of Baker blowing his horn was used as the cover of the 1956 album “Chet Baker and Crew.”
Claxton often talked about the similarities between jazz and photography. Both, he said, required improvisation and spontaneity from the artist.
But his work extended well beyong music. He memorably photographed a number of actors–the cool ones, like Frank Sinatra and Steve McQueen. Nobody photographed McQueen like Claxton, whose own cool apparently was as great as the actor’s. He is survived by his wife of 49 years, the model Peggy Moffit, and a son, Christopher. The portrait of Claxton here is by Mark Edward Harris. I know a lot of the readers of this blog were admirers of Claxton…I’d like to hear your thoughts on his work.–David Schonauer