William Claxton

Steve McQueen (after a Cross Country Race), Mojave Desert, 1963
© William Claxton

William Claxton

Silver Gelatin Print


William Claxton was born in Pasadena, California and began taking photographs as a hobby. Whilst studying psychology at UCLA he would haunt local jazz clubs armed with his camera. His photographic heroes were Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Irving Penn.

In 1952 he met Dick Bock whilst shooting Chet Baker at the Haig in Los Angeles. Bock invited him to become the house photographer and principal artist for the LP covers of his new record label. There Claxton developed his style of portraying musicians as people, and not simply performers. By the early 1960s Claxton had become well known for his jazz photography and was a successful photojournalist frequently assigned by the big publications such as Life magazine to cover movie productions at the major film studios.

Claxton first met Steve McQueen on the set of Love with the Proper Stranger, which also starred Natalie Wood. According to Claxton, McQueen at this first meeting was “both seductive and threatening. Time would prove my hunches, instincts, whatever you want to call them, were right about this unusual actor. He was street smart, animal-like, non-intellectual and hip. In fact, he brought new meaning to the word hip: he was super hip.”

Claxton went on to spend just a few short years in Steve McQueen’s company, but in that time managed to capture on film not only his talent and perfectionism, but also his tender, sensitive side and his puckish humour.

William Claxton currently lives and works in Los Angeles with his wife Peggy Moffit.

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