You know an icon when you see one. While some New Yorkers may think the blue smock cyclist may be a predator, those in the fashion industry know him for his creative endeavors. Bill Cunningham has been the pioneer of street style photography for nearly 50 years. Long before the likes of the Internet and The Sartorialist, Bill’s weekly column in the New York Times has been in print. While media has seemed to carry over into the digital realm, “On the Street” remains in the papers (with an accompanying video section online).
"Bill Cunningham New York," a documentary on the life of the legendary man, highlights his life—which more or less is encompassed by his art. New York social culture revolves around Bill, and to get a photo taken and printed is in the greatest honor (scrapbook-worthy to show future generations). Bill dedicates everything to taking photographs of culture in the streets of New York. His work requires him to attend the soirees at night, hit the pavement during the morning commutes, and everything in between. From the appearance of his tiny Carnegie Hall apartment, it’s apparent that this artist has little interest in anything else—people and photography are his life.
The original street style photographer, Bill Cunningham's portraits of New York City life range from the upper echelons of New York City society to the grungy attitude of the streets. His photographs have appeared in The New York Times since 1978. Image courtesy of The New York Times.
In a way, it would be foolish to say that Bill is merely an observer of style and trends. Much like any modern-day journalist, Bill analyzes the culture within New York. He is neither elitist nor underground in his observations. Every shoe, whether the latest Pradas or colorful Air Force Ones, deserves the same amount of attention. At the end of the day, he has accumulated millions of pictures of the City’s highs and lows, all captured in his nostalgic film camera. And without fail, Bill churns out a column every week on the waves he observes in New York culture.
I had the pleasure of watching this inspiring documentary in Los Angeles during its short-run at the Nuart Theatre. Fortunately, "Bill Cunningham New York" is coming to the Bay Area starting April 8. Buy your tickets to see Bill’s fabulous life at Shattuck Cinema or at the Embarcadero Center.