Thursday, March 17, 2011
The movie Bill Cunningham New York opened yesterday and in advance of my review of the film, which I hope to see this weekend, I thought I’d write about Bill, a man I find so inspiring. Bill Cunningham is the 82-year-old street fashion photographer for The New York Times who rides a bicycle to get around the city and always wears a blue smock since their deep pockets allow him to put film rolls inside. I had it from an acquaintance, a photo editor at The New York Times, that he and the other editors have tried to get Bill to not ride around on the bike, since he’s wrecked more than one, even been hit by a city bus (!), but all to no avail. To the bike he remains true. My friend also mentioned that something else Bill is true to is film, he does not take digital photographs.
I’ve enjoyed Bill’s photos for longer than I knew who he was, but it is his narration in “On the Street,” the weekly roundup of pictures he took and him talking about what fashion he is noticing on everyday people that made me a huge fan of him and his work. I love his Bostonian accent, “It’s mah-velous!” and his tendency to call anyone younger than himself “child,” or “young fellow,” often referring to people in their 50’s or 60’s. I just love that. I also adore his joy in clothes, which is so evident in what and who he shoots.
I had goosebumps on Fashion’s Night Out last September, standing outside Bergdorf Goodman’s in Manhattan, at 57th Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for a friend, when I saw Bill Cunningham slowly walking his bike up the street toward me, camera around his neck. He was taking in the sea of very well (and expensively) dressed humanity all around us, just like me. I have lived in New York City for over 14 years but I can still have moments of “Pinch me, I’m in New York,” and seeing Bill Cunningham at work was one of them.
Bill Cunningham, September 10, 2010, New York City.
Interestingly, he was looking, but he wasn’t taking pictures. He was considering everything, everyone. I could feel it again when I saw him thirty minutes later, on the other side of Bergdorf’s (by this time I was waiting in a very long line to get in the store). He was observing, but he wasn’t shooting, which tells me he is very selective about when, and for what, he brings his camera to his eye. I can’t wait to learn more about the man and his methods in the new film. I think he has a lot to teach me, and everyone, about passion, longevity, and being true to yourself.