My tribute to Bill Cunningham
Bill Cunningham, who turned fashion photography into his own branch of cultural anthropology on the streets of New York, his life's work chronicling an era’s ever-changing social scene for The New York Times by training his observant lens on what people wore died on Saturday in Manhattan. He was aged 87.
In 2010 a documentary was shot showcasing the working efforts of Bill Cunningham. In this documentary it exhibits Bill's 40 years working for The Times, he snapped away at the changing dress habits to chart the broader shift away from formality and toward something more diffuse, artistic and individual. He discreetly photographed the most fashion-forward people in one of the world’s most stylish cities.
In addition to documenting street fashions he also captured the culture of the city on camera and was one of the first photographers to document gay-pride parades and AIDS awareness gatherings.
In 2008, Bill Cunningham went to Paris, where the French government bestowed him with the legion d'honneur. In New York, he was celebrated at Bergdorf Goodman, where a life-size mannequin of him was installed in the window. It was the New York Landmarks Conservancy that made him a living landmark in 2009, the same year The New Yorker, in a profile described his "On the Street" and "Evening Hours" columns as the city’s unofficial yearbook: “an exuberant, sometimes retroactively embarrassing chronicle of the way we looked.”
Asceticism was a hallmark of his brand. He didn’t go to the movies. He never owned a television. He ate breakfast nearly every day at the Stage Star Deli on West 55th Street, where a cup of coffee and a sausage, egg and cheese could be had, until very recently, for under $3.
He lived until 2010 in a studio above Carnegie Hall amid rows and rows of file cabinets, where he kept all of his negatives. He slept on a single-size cot, showered in a shared bathroom and, when he was asked why he spent years ripping up checks from magazines like Details he said: “Money’s the cheapest thing. Liberty and freedom is the most expensive.”