I don’t often re-issue old posts, but here’s one I wrote after seeing Bill Cunningham New York the movie. The original street style photographer died in New York yesterday, aged 87:
Here’s a gentleman – and Cunningham is a real gent – who’s been riding up and down the streets of New York for over half a century. On a rickety old bike. Snapping pictures of ordinary folk. Actually, Cunningham is onto his 29th bike, the other 28 have been stolen. It’s the clothes he loves, not the celebrities and their ‘cookie cutter’ sameness. ‘He who seeks beauty shall find it,’ points out the 81-year-old New York Times photographer, ‘I could never be a paparazzi, to torment people and chase them. I do it discreetly.’
Cunningham lives a very simple life. The original street style photographer doesn’t take favours and is not remotely interested in money. Home is a small apartment in Carnegie Hall (though the documentary deals with the rehousing of tenants from the building): no kitchen and a bathroom down the hall, a very basic camp bed surrounded by rows of filing cabinets containing all his negatives. Bill has modest taste. Eschewing fancy food for a three dollar breakfast at a local cafe saying, ‘ I eat with my eyes,’ and rejecting fancy clothes for a street sweeper’s jacket that’s become a Cunningham trademark.
I found BCNY deeply moving – here’s one of my favourite quotes:
‘The wider world perceives fashion as frivolity that should be done away with. The point is that fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you can do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization.’
And, ‘The best fashion show is definitely on the street. Always has been. Always will be.’
This film puts life into perspective and highlights the soulless artifice of phoney/corporate fashion and modern-day celebrity. Bill Cunningham’s discerning eye saw through, and beyond, all that.
Here’s The New York Times obituary.