Tuesday, October 14, 2008

William Claxton (1927-2008)

One of my heroes died over the weekend.  If you are reading this weblog, chances are you have seen the work of photographer William Claxton.  If not, go here right now and take a look as his online portfolio.  I think it's what was once termed "the stuff of legends."  To fill in some of the details, the LA Times obit is here.  

I met him a couple of times.  The first time was 1995 or 1996.  I had recently moved into the Hollywood Tower in Hollywood during an eight month attempt to (among other things) live in LA.  I had an office job across town on the Westside and was living a pretty dead-end lifestyle...tired, broke, and busted - commuting every day on LA public transit (a whole 'nother topic).  Anyway, one afternoon I was strolling up the avenue on my lunch break when I saw a rather tall gentleman who looked like an older version of the William Claxton I knew from old photographs.  Needless to say it was the man himself, accompanied by his wife Peggy Moffitt.  I introduced myself, made nervous self-conscious small-talk, and was about to be on my way when Claxton (I never knew him well enough to call him by his nick-name Clax) invited me to an exhibition opening he was having at gallery on La Brea a few days later.  Honestly, it was the first exhibition I had been to.  It was great to see so many of his photos up close and in such high quality.  Of course the empty pockets prevented me from taking home any souvenirs - something I have faint pangs of regret about to this day.

I met him years later - 2005 or so - here in San Francisco.  He was at the Booksmith promoting Taschen's DELUXE edition of his epic Jazz Life (incidentally this is now available as a special edition).  I re-introduced myself and we had a nice but brief conversation.  I think only my wife knows this - but I had a fantasy that I would do a photo session with him some day joining the ranks of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, and Steve McQueen in some small little way...but this was not to be.  Hearing of his death saddens me and thinking about it leaves me with little else to say but...

Farewell William Claxton.  May you rest in peace.

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