vintage silver gelatin photograph
20 x 16
This is classic Judy, the iconic performer in one of her familiar concert poses. Judy Garland was one of the legendary performers of the 20th Century and an inspiration to the LGBTQ community. She was Dorothy, a young girl seeking home "somewhere over the rainbow". She was Hannah Brown strolling down 5th Ave with Fred Astaire in Easter Parade. She was Esther in Meet me in St Louis and also in A star is Born. Her voice was like no other and she could fill the Palace and Carnegie Hall with the emotion of her experience. Judy was a close friend of President Kennedy and when world affairs got hectic, JFK delighted in having the White House operator track down Judy wherever she was and have her sing Over the Rainbow.
The photographs of William Claxton define the essence of cool -- his stunningly intimate images of icons like Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker and Bob Dylan combine technical innovation and an unerring sense of the moment to forge a singular aesthetic he defined as "jazz for the eyes." Born in Pasadena, CA on Oct. 12, 1927, Claxton was the product of a musical household -- his mother was a semi-professional singer and his father avidly collected big-band records, but while he studied piano as a child, he found he had no patience for learning to play. Instead Claxton gravitated toward photography -- by age 12, he regularly took the bus to downtown Los Angeles to attend jazz performances at the Orpheum Theatre, armed with his Brownie box camera and wearing his father's suit to avoid questions about his age. His earliest subjects included jazz icons Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, the latter photographed during an impromptu breakfast-time shoot at the Claxton family's La Cañada Flintridge home. After graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles with a degree in psychology, Claxton remained a habitué of local jazz venues; in 1952, while shooting Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker at the Haig Club, he met Richard Bock, founder of the fledgling Pacific Jazz imprint, who quickly hired him as the label's art director and house photographer. During his time at Pacific Jazz, Claxton snapped and designed album covers at a rate of roughly one per week, in the process establishing the visual identity of the West Coast jazz movement. Where previous jazz photographers captured their subjects in the dark, smoky environs of nightclubs, Claxton capitalized on the sun and surf of southern California, posing artists in unorthodox outdoor settings to represent a new era in the music's continued evolution.
Claxton's photographs of Baker are widely cited as the catalyst behind the trumpeter's rise to mainstream renown. He often claimed that Baker's relationship with the camera taught him the true meaning of the term "photogenic." "I was up all night developing when the face appeared in the developing tray," Claxton recalled in a 2005 interview. "A tough demeanor and a good physique but an angelic face with pale white skin and, the craziest thing, one tooth missing -- he'd been in a fight. I thought, my God, that's Chet Baker." (Claxton's seminal portraits of Baker were later compiled in the book Young Chet.) Claxton's portfolio features many of the most influential and indelible artists of the 20th century, including Sinatra, Dylan, Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando. His work is renowned for capturing these complex, often combative figures in their most private and unguarded moments, a relationship the photographer nurtured by promising never to portray his subjects in an unflattering light. Another signature of Claxton's work is the geometric precision of his perspective, framing subjects in poses that mirror their environmental context. Arguably his most revealing and accomplished photographs capture the legendary film actor Steve McQueen: Claxton and McQueen first bonded over their passion for sports cars, and before their scheduled session, the photographer let the star play with his camera to impress upon him the joy of taking pictures. "Can you feel your life?" Claxton asked McQueen. "Can you feel this happening to you?" Over the years to follow Claxton photographed McQueen on numerous occasions, highlighted by a 1962 shoot that yielded a celebrated shot of the actor peering up over the rim of his sunglasses while navigating his Jaguar along L.A.'s Mulholland Drive. Their friendship was later documented in Claxton's book Steve McQueen.
The other great subject of Claxton's oeuvre is his wife, fashion model Peggy Moffitt. The muse for fashion designer Rudi Gernreich, Moffitt created one of the iconic looks of the '60s with her false eyelashes, heavy eye makeup, and modified bowl-cut hairstyle, known as the "five point." In 1964, Gernreich designed the "monokini," a topless bathing suit, and after much deliberation, Moffitt agreed to model the swimsuit on the condition that Claxton take the photographs. The resulting images vaulted both Gernreich and Moffitt to superstardom in addition to establishing Claxton's credentials as a fashion photographer par excellence. In addition to the myriad photo sessions that followed (documented via 1991's The Rudi Gernreich Book) , Claxton and Moffitt also collaborated on the 1967 short film Basic Black, often cited as the first fashion video. It is now part of the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection, alongside a number of Claxton's still photos. Over the years he mounted numerous museum exhibitions of his work, rising to even greater mainstream renown thanks to his efforts for magazines including Time, Life, Vogue, Paris Match and Interview. Although Claxton is inextricably identified with Los Angeles, he also lived or worked in New York City, London and Paris during the course of his six-decade career, and in 2003 he earned the Lucie award for music photography at the International Photography Awards. Also noteworthy: he was a founding member of the Recording Academy, the music industry organization that each year hands out the Grammy Awards. Claxton died following complications from congestive heart failure on October 11, 2008, one day short of his 81st birthday.