Legendary street style photographer Bill Cunningham.
New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham bicycles to work in New York. Cunningham, a longtime fashion photographer died on Saturday, June 25, 2016, after suffering a stroke in New York. He was 87.
New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham, center, shoots the Tory Burch Fall 2013 collection, during Fashion Week in New York, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013.
Diane Bondareff/Invision/Associated Press
Fashion editor and writer Miroslava Dumas is photographed by Bill Cunningham as she arrives to the Rodarte spring 2013 fashion show, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, in New York.
Bill Cunningham photographing in the street.
By Sara Bauknecht / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In an ever-changing world, there’s comfort in life’s few constants. In fashion, that was Bill Cunningham.
For decades, he chronicled the streets of New York City with his 35-millimeter camera. Columns such as his “On the Street” series for The New York Times shaped the art of street photography, long before the internet was saturated with blogs and Instagram accounts devoted to it. His photographs of seemingly pedestrian scenes — a woman cloaked in fur tip-toeing through Manhattan’s snowy streets or a young girl biking in a full cherry-red frock — captured not just what New Yorkers wore but also how they lived.
As a style editor, I knew that when I went to New York Fashion Week, Bill would be there. No matter the weather or the time of day, he could be spotted outside the venue standing unassumingly among the throngs of other photographers, many of whom he undoubtedly inspired. Other times, I’d see him seated at a runway show in the first or second row, flanked by designer-clad celebrities and editors who made his signature blue jacket and khaki pants appear all the more modest. When people made a fuss about catching a glimpse of their favorite fashion photographer, he’d crack a quick smile and shrug it off.
It’s been a week since Mr. Cunningham died at age 87 following a recent stroke. But how could this be? When fashion’s who’s who gather later this month for New York’s men’s shows, who will be there to document the glamorous and the garish with quite the same finesse? Or at New York Fashion Week? Or next year’s Met Gala?
After all, as Vogue editor Anna Wintour once put it, “We all get dressed for Bill.”
“He dismissed rather than used, abused or wielded his power,” says Highland Park native Julia DiNardo, who’s worked in New York City as a fashion writer and founding editor of FashionPulseDaily.com for more than a decade. “Everyone loved him ... but he always let his discerning eye and genuine kindness lead rather than ambition.”
That kindness was palpable when she met him early in her career at New York Fashion Week during its days in Bryant Park.
“When he was introduced to me, he called me ‘child,’ but it was said in the most endearing, heartwarming way,” she says. “It set the tone for who he was.”
After his photography, he was admired for his warmth and humility.
“He catches a lot of people in action and movement. I’m trying to get to that level,” he says. “And he could ride a bike and shoot.”
Photographs are only as good, however, as the spirit they capture. Mr. Cunningham’s married skill with a pure joy for fashion in all of its varieties.
“I love talking about Bill’s work with my students because his career exemplifies the scope of fashion. From couture to rain boots, everyone is wearing something. It’s all worth a second look,” says Casey Droege, a cultural producer and artist who teaches fashion courses at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He “helps them understand what it means to truly appreciate the art of fashion.”
Since his death, two images of him keep replaying in my mind. One is actually a photo I snapped of him on my cell phone last summer while exiting a Rag & Bone menswear presentation in the Meatpacking District. As the city swirled around him, he stood there stoically, his slender frame hunched forward, surveying the sights through his camera with laser focus. The second memory is of the time I noticed him on a subway platform in between runway shows. I thought about striking up a conversation with him, but before I could he strolled away in the opposite direction. He was an artist, and Manhattan was his medium. He was off to discover his next muse.
Sara Bauknecht: email@example.com or on Twitter and Instagram @SaraB_PG.
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