Best show to highlight a Playboy photographer (2000)

Ted Williams, Tone Poems

Now, calm down. The Playboy photographer in question, Ted Williams, made a career not from those famous cheesecake centerfolds, but by recording, in classic black-and-white shots, America's jazz scene of the 1950s to the 1970s. A photographer since his childhood days in 1930s Texas, Williams became one of the first African-American photographers to enter Chicago's prestigious Institute of Design. The school, now a part of the Illinois Institute of Technology, is sometimes referred to as the American Bauhaus, since much of its faculty consisted of refugees from the Nazis who had taught at the original German Bauhaus. Having experienced discrimination themselves in Berlin, the school's teachers, Williams says, "weren't going to have none of that" in Chicago. Playboy wasn't, either; the magazine hired Williams in 1958, and on that beat he captured all the greats. The most interesting aspect of Williams's photos is that he employed an unlikely formula to make his celebrity pinups: Instead of taking a careful, posed shot, as is the standard in the field, he used the candid-camera technique, catching his subjects in unguarded moments, a method favored by street photographers. In Williams's hands, the results show off the best of both worlds.


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