We Remember Bill Cunningham
Posted on 28 June 2016
Bill Cunningham, world renowned photographer and pioneer of street style photography, sadly passed away on Saturday 25th June, aged 87. Draped in his, now iconic, utilitarian blue French worker’s jacket, he captured the cultural anthropology of the New York streets, chronicling an era’s ever-changing social scene for The New York Times, unburdened, fuelled by nothing but his love for fashion and a desire to capture the perfect shot.
After serving a tour in the U.S Army he returned home in 1952 and began work as a milliner, a passion that started it’s life whilst Cunningham was still in school. He closed his hat shop in 1962 to pursue a career in fashion journalism.
In 1967 the future of fashion photography was changed forever as Cunningham picked up his first camera. After photographing the social phenomenon The Summer of Love that same year Cunningham had an epiphany - that subjects out of the street were his kin.
Despite his desire to find subjects, rather than be the subject and his wish to observe, rather than be observed he had many honours bestowed upon him. In 2008, Cunningham went to Paris, where the French government bestowed the Légion d'Honneur on him. In New York, he was celebrated at Bergdorf Goodman, where a life-size mannequin of him was installed in the window. He was such a singular presence in the city that, in 2009, he was designated a living landmark.
“When I’m photographing,” Cunningham once said, “I look for the personal style with which something is worn — sometimes even how an umbrella is carried or how a coat is held closed. At parties, it’s important to be almost invisible, to catch people when they’re oblivious to the camera — to get the intensity of their speech, the gestures of their hands. I’m interested in capturing a moment with animation and spirit.”
Asceticism was a hallmark of his brand. He didn’t go to the movies. He didn’t own 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 never took at pay check for his work for fear it would change his perception of the world, choosing instead to discover fashion in his own unique way and reporting it back to the world as only he could. He was quoted as saying: “Money’s the cheapest thing. Liberty and freedom is the most expensive.”
Anna Wintour perfectly surmised his influence within the fashion industry in one eloquent statement, “we all get dressed for Bill”.
He will be sorely missed.