Watch this. Bill Cunningham New York

26 Sep

In lieu of keeping on topic of our wise elders that we could learn a thing or three from, Bill Cunningham may just be my new hero after watching Bill Cunningham New York.  I keep finding myself being overly attracted to either kids under the age of 15 or people over the age of 75.  Maybe it’s because they share the same common thread of having less inhibitions on what is important.  The rest of us in the middle are more worried about what everyone else is doing/thinking, which makes the meat a little less easy to taste.  That’s why Bill is my hero.

Bill Cunningham is thought of the original street photographer in having shot the streets of New York since the late 60’s.  “I’m not interested in celebrities with their free dresses,” Cunningham says in the film. “I’m interested in the clothes.”  He keeps the schedule of a fisherman, rain or shine, blizzard or hurricane, he hits the street with his 35mm Nikon and tirelessly documents fashion on everyday people.  He has a spread that appears weekly in the Sunday New York Times Fashion section, that points out trends before Anna Wintour reports on them in the pages of Vogue.  More than highlighting his prolific body of work, this film really makes you love Bill for what he stands for, which is his independence and ethical stance on what fashion should be.  He often refuses to get paid because he feels then people could then tell him what to do.  He’s one of the few tenants left in the famous Carnegie Hall lofts, with a studio that is no larger than a closet, filled with filing cabinets of negatives and art books.  It’s ironic for a man who’s incredibly passionate about fashion to laugh at ever having the need for a closet.  He only has the clothes on his back and a change of the exact same clothes that he hangs through the handle of a filing drawer.  As for his ethics, he’s never taken a mean photograph to out someone for their fashion mishaps.  He only takes photos of what he loves.  He even left his job documenting fashion for WWD (Women’s Wear Daily), one of the most sought after jobs for any fashion photographer, because they took his images and divided them into a worst and best dressed list.  It devistated him to see his subjects in a negative light.

You can still see Cunningham riding his 28th Schwinn bike (other 27 have been stolen over the years) with his camera around his neck hopping from one charity event to the next fashion event, while dodging taxis from the Upper East Side to Soho.  He’s 82, has no intention to ever stop, because documenting what he sees on the streets is his one love.

“There is no reason to be doom and gloom and think that fashion is finished… The wider world perceives fashion as frivolity that should be done away with. The point is that fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you can do away with it, it would be like doing away with civilisation.”

“The problem is I’m not a good photographer. To be perfectly honest, I’m too shy. Not aggressive enough. Well, I’m not aggressive at all. I just loved to see wonderfully dressed women, and I still do. That’s all there is to it.”

“I don’t decide anything,” he says. “I let the street speak to me, and in order for the street to speak to you, you’ve got to stay out there and see what it is.”

In 2008, Cunningham was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres , by the French Ministry of Culture. In his speech, he was overcome with emotion. He told the assembled glitterati: “It’s as true today as it ever was. He who seeks beauty, will find it.”

You should watch this documentary, whether you care about fashion or photography.  We all have a lot to learn from it.  It’s available on DVD or you can stream it on Netflix.

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