A REMEMBRANCE: Bill Cunningham
This past Easter Sunday 2017, The New York Times ran a page of unpublished photos taken by Bill Cunningham of Easter Parades of the 6 previous years. The composition and formatting of the images in keeping with the way that Mr. Cunningham designed his pages. https://nyti.ms/2of4iV4 It made his absence more acutely felt.
- •Bill Cunningham invented street style photography.Renowned for roaming NYC photographIng authentic style and fashion in the context of use. People wearing clothes for their own interest and preference. Celebrated in the documentary: Bill Cunningham New York (2010).
- •Long before algorithms that spotted and identified trends existed, Mr. Cunningham was at the edge, recognizing the themes and preferences of what was about to break.Not a famous face in the crowd, style in life in a variety of shapes and sizes.
- •A thesis presented, argued and supported, not declared or imposed.He also did not emphasize designer vs. lower market interpretation, high vs. low: style was never about a label.
- •He often saw the shifting color palettes, drawing connections from objects and flowers to the clothes.
- •While intimately familiar with what was presented on the runways, and within the fashion industry, trends did not gain relevance until he saw it in the street.The art that is fashion, with historical references, a high degree in mastery of craft, and technological advancement in textile production (a foundational industry in developing economies to advancing industrialization, a topic for another list), has an immediate and tangible relationship with the consumer and public. Mr. Cunningham always made the case that without use, a pretty frock did not transcend to art. Interpretation is part of the artistic process.
- •Best of all, Anna Wintour, notorious Vogue editor, was kind of scared of him.Quoted in the documentary as saying that if Bill Cunningham didn't snap your photo when walking past him - it was like death. 'We all get dressed for Bill' she said. He was often seated besides her at fashion shows because his eye, so well focused and trained, had an instant read on the what was notable about a collection.
- •Why is he relevant, to me or anyone else?I never met the man, but through his work which felt very personal. On the Sunday style pages of the New York Times,every week sharing a glimpse to the future, a montage for a change of season, always something beautiful in the city that could be dark. He captured the patterns of style, curating images to share his vision of art in the everyday, making it accessible, showing me it was a possible mode of expression. It was authentic through constancy and persistence. A role model for creators.
- •He was genuinely unassuming, and loved doing what he did. The GIF below, clipped from the documentary, occurred when an inexperienced staffer at the gate sought his press credential, when someone in the know stepped in.(The tiny font of the GIF reads: please he's the most important person on earth)I admire anyone who can build their life around the pursuit of art, it's study, and interpretation. Bill Cunningham found his passion rewarded and generously shared it with us all. The Sunday style pages now are just not the same, bland a little generic, unfocused. Joyless.