A huge “thank you” to Bea, Cathy, Laura, Nancy, Sheila, for insisting that I travel to a run –down, dilapidated theatre , outside my zip code to see this inspirational documentary about a simple man, happily bonded, partnered to his trade: a street photographer. Like Basquiat who used the walls of New York as his canvas, Bill Cunningham, armed with his camera and bicycle focuses on the people of New York: their style, sense of self, some slaves, some unchained from the dictates of the fashion forecasters.
Bill Cunningham (1928) a Harvard drop-out wrote for the Chicago Tribune, experimented in the millinery trade, served in the Army, worked for Women’s Wear Daily and now is the Emperor of fashion photography at the New York Times. Every Sunday in the Style section you experience a soundless cacophony of kaleidoscopic color and movement; dressed in a blue smock, a patched rain poncho he roams the streets and take pictures of people of interest and inimitable style: concentrating on trends; whether shoes, hem lengths, faux fur; hundreds of photos later, he tweaks his theme for the week. Watching, I was reminded of what Cezanne said of Monet, “he was only an eye, but good God what an eye”. Bill Cunningham, his personal style and wardrobe (or lack thereof) has an “eye” for the unique, contemporary tastes of New York natives and tourists. He concentrates and photographs “style”, “clothes”; “celebrity” is anathema, yet he has been continuously catered to by those whose fame ignites the curiosity of the voyeur; it is the wardrobe, not the individual that fires his boundless imagination.
Bill was the only member of the media included in Brook Astor’s 100 birthday celebration; he was awarded France’s Officier de L’ Orde des Arts et des Letters; he worked both events. He is married to his camera, one of the last residents of Carnegie Hall, cohabitating with countless files, memories, in a kitchenless, closetless, room; here you witness a rarity, a Shantaram, man of peace, contentment, and in perfect alignment with his god, career and life. Bill Cunningham is a legend in his own time.