Week 4: New York Fashion – Bill Cunningham

I decided to express my fascination for this man in terms of fashion in New York City because that’s all I kept thinking about while I was going through our assigned readings and I believed it was pretty revelant to show. For those who don’t know him, Bill Cunningham is a fashion photographer for The New York Times known for his candid and street photography. I learned about Bill thanks to a documentary film made about him, his bicycle, and his camera titled Bill Cunningham New York (which I strongly encourage everyone to watch) released on 2011 by filmmakers Richard Press and Philip Gefter of The Times.

Cunningham photographs people and the passing scene in the streets of Manhattan every day. Designer Oscar de la Renta has expressed, “More than anyone else in the city, he has the whole visual history of the last 40 or 50 years of New York. It’s the total scope of fashion in the life of New York.” For decades, Bill has been obsessively and inventively chronicling fashion trends and high-society charity soirees for the Times‘s Style section in his columns “On the Street” and “Evening Hours”. Though he has made a career out of unexpected photographs of celebrities, socialites, and fashion personalities, many in those categories value his company. The film includes notable designers and known editors such as Vogue editor Anna Wintour who expresses that “We all get dressed for Bill”. Full of uptown fixtures (such as Wintour, Tom Wolfe, Brooke Astor, David Rockefeller,—who all appear in the film), downtown eccentrics and everyone in between, Cunningham’s enormous body of work documents its time and place as well as individual flair.

My whole point with presenting Bill in this post though, is the fact that he just fascinates me because he doesn’t care about photographing celebrities or famous people necessarily. He just cares about the clothing, uprising styles, cultures and outfits that are out of the ordinary. This is something that can be seen in the film. He has no particular interest in becoming part of this ‘elite’ fashion lifestyle or knowing what ‘fashion society’ you are in. Which is something I’ve always rooted for. People often think the most fashionable are the ones we see on magazines, and we have this sort of mixed perception of it because we are made to believe these are the only ones that CAN be fashionable –  all because they are wearing huge and expensive designer brands. I also know about photographers that will only take pictures of known and famous people, which upsets me as an artist who still hopes for people that just care about their art. But he doesn’t care about designer names – if he sees you on the street with innovative style and have your own individual flair, that’s all he will notice and quickly photograph you and go about his day. Whether you’re Kate Moss or the girl that lives down the block. Because he is dedicated to showing the world NEW YORK and its FASHION, nothing else really. He is a humble man living in his small Carnegie Hall studio dedicated to showing the current style in the city. So hopefully, if you all get to watch this film, you’ll feel just as motivated as I was to look at New York Fashion in a different and inspiring light.


Stephanie De Jesús


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