Magazine Article


Photographic Memory


by Alice B. Miller

Photographs and Reminiscences by William Claxton

Introduction by Graydon Carter

Published by powerhouse books [ISBN: 1-57687-085-5]

While William Claxton's portraits of jazz legends the likes of Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Joe Williams are American classics.

Spike Lee
New York City, 1989

Less well known is that Claxton has similarly immortalized an equally impressive gathering of headliners from film, fashion, and the arts. Claxton, now 75, has shot scores of actors, artists, directors, musicians, writers, and entertainers for Life, Look, Vogue, and Harper's Bazaar since the early 1950s.

In Photographic Memory, his first monograph of these celebrities, he pairs up 115 stunning black & white duotone portraits with anecdotes about his subjects, many of whom were close friends.

Flipping through this oversized volume, you find yourself smiling at pictures that are not only iconic but relaxed, exuberant, full of life.

As Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter says in the book's introduction, "Claxton's intent seems not to glamorize but to linger, long and inquisitively, with a mind as open and forgiving as his aperture. . . Put him behind a camera and it's as if his lens were fitted with a filter that makes every man come away a shade more handsome, every woman more alluring."

So many faces, so much history. Where to begin? In no particular, the images: Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Shirley MacLaine, Lee Remick, Robert Redford, Truman Capote, Aldous Huxley, Joan Baez, Leonard Bernstein, Leslie Caron, Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow, Marlon Brando, Sidney Poitier, Jack Lemmon, Igor Stravinsky, Lena Horne, Rudolph Nureyev, he and his wife, Peggy Moffitt.

Natalie Wood
New York City, 1961

Beyond the imagery, he adds another dimension to this book by providing brief descriptions with each photo at the book's end. Claxton tells us, for example, that the photo of Natalie Wood (below) was shot "High above Fifth Avenue on the balcony at the Sherry Netherlands Hotel, where she had a day off from filming Love with the Proper Stranger with Steve McQueen. And the 1989 photo of director Spike Lee shows him "scrutinizing my color shots of Denzel Washington, which would be used as the advertising art for his film Mo' Better Blues."

Claxton's captivating images have appeared in Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Time, Life, Vogue, and Paris Match, and on numerous album covers. His previous publications include Jazz, The Rudi Gernreich Book (with his wife), Young Chef, Claxography: The Art of Jazz Photography, Jazz Seen, and Steve McQueen .

If it's true that, as Claxton once observed, "Photography is jazz for the eye," then his splendid new work, Photographic Memory: Photographs and Reminiscences by William Claxton is one high-powered, foot-tapping, soul-soothing jam session.