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.