Who seeks beauty

Bill Cunningham has been documenting New York streets for a half century through a particular “lens”: clothing. He does it for the sheer love of his subject, the beauty of those who bring this subject to the world, and the freedom he experiences in his day-to-day life, bicycling from street corner to charity event to museum opening. He will not sell out, and he retains creative control over his pages in The New York Times. He lives for his craft, which he denies is an art. In Bill Cunningham’s world, the art is on the people who wear it.

I recommend the documentary by Richard Press, Bill Cunningham New York. Mr. Cunningham is a charming eccentric, full of self-deprecating laughter and good-natured yet dogged dedication to his work. His subjects love him, and he holds them in the utmost respect. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. We get the benefit in admiring the street fashion he shares in every spread. Whimsy and color capture his shutter finger, as do general trends: the good, the bad and the ugly. He doesn’t judge: he just presents what he sees (albeit highly edited by his critical eye). The street leads his lens, and he shares it with his viewers.

It gets me thinking about our perspective on the world, and the dichotomies in our daily lives: frustration and freedom, despair and hope, blandness and celebration, boredom and curiosity, duty and passion. Bill Cunningham has it right, seeing the right side of these dualities, living them, not only in his non-materialistic existence but in his pursuit of true happiness, shutter by shutter, and in sharing that with the world.

Upon bestowal of knighthood in the French Legion of Honor, Bill Cunningham, wearing his trademark “veste bleue” of the working-class French, said: “He who seeks beauty will find it.” I find a truer word was never uttered.

I see Bill Cunningham living a simple life, capturing the abundance of beauty around him, and I aspire to be more like him: modest, grateful, joyful, and full of admiration of the world.

below: link to first part of documentary on YouTube. Also available on Netflix streaming.

3 thoughts on “Who seeks beauty

  1. The very best way to see the beauty around you is to take photographs. Through the lens you see things that you might pass by without a glance. You begin to look for beauty, humor, color and even life lessons when you use a camera. In some way it narrows your eye to hone in on something that has meaning to you. And then you want to share the moment with your family and friends. Maybe you even build a community of seeing.

  2. I just read an interesting article written by a woman who has worked with hospice patients for years and decided to record the somewhat universal realizations people arrive at in the last weeks of their lives. The article was an offering to those of us who (hopefully) have some time left to enable us to live that time more fully. One of the realizations had to do with being happy, that it is a choice we can make more often than we do. Maybe this is a version of Bill Cunningham’s remarks about beauty, that if we look for happiness in ourselves or our lives, we will find it. For me, beauty and happiness are entwined. This past Thursday and Friday, I was at Arcosanti in the Arizona desert about an hour south of Sedona. Something about the buildings (designed by Paolo Soleri) and their placement in this vast desert space spoke to my senses like nothing I’ve experienced before. I saw the beauty of it, and the beauty soothed the “soft animal of my body,” soothed my whole being – which is what I’d have to call something like happiness.


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