Born in Pasadena, California, he began his career as a hobby. While studying psychology at UCLA, he haunted local jazz clubs with his camera: a 4 x 5 Speed Graphic, obsolete even then. He was early passionated for photography and dreamt to follow his heroes like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Franck or Irving Penn. William Claxton spent his time collecting 78’s by Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Count Basie and Tommy Dorsey. Being a big fan of jazz, he began his career by photographing his favorite musicians like Chet Baker before he was made responsible for the creation of record sleeves. By the time he started photographing musicians himself, he looked for ways to define them as people, not just as performers. He makes his subjects comfortable enough to lower their guard, then freezes their most telling moments. The greatest revelations occured when he takes musicians away from the stage.
His fame quickly spread abroad while his photographs are published in Vogue, Life, Paris Match or Vanity Fair.
His work is in particular known for his photographs of Steeve McQueen, directing the actor at the beginning of his cinematographic career in the 60's. His jazz photographs are also well-known. Whether it's studio portrait or taken in the actual moment, these photographs are themselves pure music. Each of them shows a sensibility for rythms and tones. William Claxton catched souls of musicians, intense concentration of Miles Davis and overflowing vitality of Louis Armstrong.
His intense photographs got the atmosphere of a time, New Orleans streets or New York legendary jazz clubs. These are the icons of their time not only for jazz fans.