Bill Cunningham photographs people in fashion statements they own on the New York City high streets. But in the 1930’s as a young boy sitting in Church fascinated by ladies hats Bill Cunningham never dreamed of fame. Certainly never wanted to draw attention to himself. He dreamed of adorning women’s heads with his hat designs. When his dream fell through he invented a street style of fashion photo journalism. Since the 1960’s Bill Cunningham, the self-realized curbside chronicler of fashion, somehow along the way became an icon. A quiet unassuming one.
Mostly from the vantage point of his beat up bicycle Bill Cunningham points and shoots stills of real people using real film. For nearly fifty years he has lovingly chronicled fashion trends rather than celebrities. Maybe he’s even photographing you. That is, if your style fits his sensibility and wheel path. And, the streets intersect and align. You might be photographed stepping out on Fifth Avenue. In an instant the shutter clicks. It could happen.
Bill Cunningham New York is the new film by Richard Press which beautifully captures the man behind his unintentional mystique. Without making a fuss the film gazes naturally at Bill Cunningham’s honorable approach to life, work and toward his subjects. Bill Cunningham is equally stubborn, adorable and beatific. A Pete Seeger of fashion photography. If there were such a thing as an ascetic, folk-singing style of sacred, fashion photo journalism for the enrichment of humanity and the Arts, Bill Cunningham would own that category.
Bill Cunningham’s authenticity and humanity is as inspiring as his talent for sneaking a peak on up coming trends. He straddles his Schwinn to photograph two middle age women wearing complimentary blazers and enjoys them bubbling afterwards. Delighted with his attention they effusively share their life long friendship and that they’ve “never had an argument.” Somehow everyone feels enriched. Bill Cunningham’s irascible integrity and delight makes Bill Cunningham New York a must see.
In the New York Times Style Section Bill Cunningham holds forth in his not-to-be missed pictorial column “On the Street”. His impeccable eye for individual style and what’s trending is awesome. A digital version is also available at the New York Times online. The charm of Bill Cunningham’s Yankee accent narrating is contagious.
Like many, I relish and devour Bill Cunningham’s photographs from over the years. But, now his empathy touches me personally. Like Bill Cunningham’s obsession for chronicling humanity in fashion so Richard Press matches his subject by quietly observing Bill Cunningham through a lens for the pleasure of us all.