Sad news from the NY Times: legendary street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham has died today at the age of 87.
In his nearly 40 years working for The Times, Mr. Cunningham operated both as a dedicated chronicler of fashion and as an unlikely cultural anthropologist, one who used the changing dress habits of the people he photographed to chart the broader shift away from formality and toward something more diffuse and individualistic.
At the Pierre hotel on the East Side of Manhattan, he pointed his camera at tweed-wearing blue-blood New Yorkers with names like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt. Downtown, by the piers, he clicked away at crop-top wearing Voguers. Up in Harlem, he jumped off his bicycle — he rode more than 30 over the years, replacing one after another as they were wrecked or stolen — for B-boys in low-slung jeans.
I saw Cunningham out on the streets of NYC twice and both times chills ran up my back watching a master at work. Unless Cunningham had something in the can before he died, it looks as though the last of his On the Street features is about black and white fashion. Tonight might be a good time to watch the documentary Bill Cunningham New York — it’s available on Amazon (free with Prime).
In March, the New York Historical Society is mounting an exhibition of photographer Bill Cunningham’s project, Façades.
Scouring the city’s thrift stores, auction houses, and street fairs for vintage clothing, and scouting sites on his bicycle, Cunningham generated a photographic essay entitled Façades, which paired models — in particular his muse, fellow photographer Editta Sherman — in period costumes with historic settings.
Bill Cunningham New York, a documentary film about the unassuming king of street fashion photography, is out on DVD today.
“We all get dressed for Bill,” says Vogue editor Anna Wintour. The Bill in question is 80+ New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham. For decades, this Schwinn-riding cultural anthropologist has been obsessively and inventively chronicling fashion trends he spots emerging from Manhattan sidewalks and high society charity soirees for his beloved Style section columns On The Street and Evening Hours.
Cunningham’s enormous body of work is more reliable than any catwalk as an expression of time, place and individual flair. The range of people he snaps uptown fixtures like Wintour, Brooke Astor, Tom Wolfe and Annette de la Renta (who appear in the film out of their love for Bill), downtown eccentrics and everyone in between reveals a delirious and delicious romp through New York. But rarely has anyone embodied contradictions as happily and harmoniously as Bill, who lived a monk-like existence in the same Carnegie Hall studio at for fifty years, never eats in restaurants and gets around solely on bike number 29 (28 having been stolen).
Showing at MoMA next month, a documentary based on the NY Times’ relentless and intrepid street photographer Bill Cunningham. From the press release:
The opening night feature of this year’s New Directors/New Films is the world premiere of Bill Cunningham New York (USA, 2010) on Wednesday, March 24, at 7:00 p.m. at MoMA. Director Richard Press’ documentary is a heartfelt and honest film about the inimitable New York Times photographer, who has for decades lovingly captured the unexpected trends, events, and people of Manhattan for the Styles section of the newspaper. The film shows Cunningham, an octogenarian, riding his Schwinn bicycle to cover benefits, galas, and fashion shows around Manhattan, and illustrates how his camera has captured the looks that have defined generations.
I couldn’t really find any other information online about this film. They should at least get a trailer up on YouTube or something.
Street photographer Bill Cunningham didn’t have a ticket to the Inauguration nor did he have an assignment from the NY Times to cover it; he just bought a train ticket, went down on his own, and brought back these photos. Be sure to listen to Cunningham’s wonderful narration; he even gets choked up when describing the moment of Obama’s swearing-in. I wish all journalism were this professionally personal (if that makes any sense). (via greg.org)
Here are a pair of articles from 2002 on street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, who currently plys his trade for the NY Times. (I love Cunningham’s On the Street dispatches.) The first is Bill on Bill, where the photographer recalls how he got interested in fashion and photography.
As a kid, I photographed people at ski resorts — you know, when you got on the snow train and went up to New Hampshire. And I did parties. I worked as a stock boy at Bonwit Teller in Boston, where my family lived, and there was a very interesting woman, an executive, at Bonwit’s. She was sensitive and aware, and she said, “I see you outside at lunchtime watching people.” And I said, “Oh, yeah, that’s my hobby.” She said, “If you think what they’re wearing is wrong, why don’t you redo them in your mind’s eye.” That was really the first professional direction I received.
He taught me how to tell a story with pictures and that it didn’t always involve the best image. I’d say to him, “But isn’t this a better photo?” And he’d say, “Yes, child, but this photo tells the story better.” For him, it wasn’t about the aesthetics of photography. It was about storytelling.
Both articles mention that Cunningham got his first street photography into the Times when he shot a photo of the famously reclusive Greta Garbo walking on Fifth Avenue. I couldn’t find Cunningham’s Garbo photo anywhere online so I tracked down the Times article and found only this poor scan:
The term ‘hobble skirt’ came into popular use in the early 1910s, when a European fashion trend started by French designer Paul Poiret introduced long skirts that were narrow at the hem, thus ‘hobbling’ the wearer. Some attribute one of Poiret’s inspiration to Mrs. Hart Berg, the first American woman to join the Wright Brothers in air. To keep her skirts from flying out of control while airborne, she tied a rope around them below the knees (Katherine Wright, sister of the flight innovators the Wright brothers, also did the same shortly afterwards).
For a short while, the tighter the skirt, the more fashionable it was. This also brought about accessories such as the hobble garter (you can see one in tbe PBS series The Manor House) designed to limit the wearer’s stride so that she would not cause the skirt to rip. This trend died shortly afterwards due to the impracticality of such a garment, particularly with the introduction of cars (the skirts making getting in and out of one a bit of an adventure).