Less than three weeks ago, we lost a legend in the fashion community, photographer Bill Cunningham. The world renowned photographer gained his acclaim through his 40-year tenure as a street style photographer. He shot everyday street style fashion for his columns at The New York Times and could be seen at the Met Gala and all over the New York Fashion week scene. Even Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, says in the 2010 documentary Bill Cunningham New York, “We all get dressed for Bill.”He could always be spotted wearing a blue jacket, a camera bag slung across his shoulder, traveling through the streets of New York City.
Cunningham is the predecessor to pretty much every street style blog we have out today. From The Sartorialist and Tommy Ton to perfectly curated Instagram feeds and even Atlanta’s own Atlanta Street Fashion blog (to be featured on the blog very soon!), Bill Cunningham brought the art of street photography to the world of fashion and never looked back. Mr. Cunningham himself once said: “When I’m photographing, I look for the personal style with which something is worn — sometimes even how an umbrella is carried or how a coat is held closed. At parties, it’s important to be almost invisible, to catch people when they’re oblivious to the camera — to get the intensity of their speech, the gestures of their hands. I’m interested in capturing a moment with animation and spirit.”
The legendary photographer was a kind soul but made sure not to be beholden to anyone or anything, especially when it came to his work. His advice to not just photographers but creatives everywhere, “ “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do.” He did end up becoming a staff photographer for The New York Times in 1994. “It was a matter of health insurance,” he said due to an accident that happened while he was riding his bike around town.
When it came to fashion, Bill Cunningham was one of the most knowledgeable photographers in the game and had strong opinions about that world that he was a part of. According to The New York Times, Cunningham states “Fashion is as vital and as interesting today as ever. I know what people with a more formal attitude mean when they say they’re horrified by what they see on the street. But fashion is doing its job. It’s mirroring exactly our times.”
Upon news of Cunningham’s passing, Vogue’s fashion news editor, Alessandra Codinha tweeted “RIP Bill Cunningham, a true gentleman and irreplaceable talent. Who will we dress for, now?” Numerous others in the fashion industry poured out their condolences for the much loved photographer and shared their experiences meeting the kindred spirit. Now that he no longer roams the New York City streets, Codinha’s question is probably ringing through the ears of fashion industry as we speak. Who will we dress for now?
If you’re local to Atlanta, my alma mater’s fashion museum, SCAD FASH, has an open exhibition featuring some of Bill Cunningham’s work. More information on the exhibition "Grand Divertissement à Versailles, Vintage Photographs by Bill Cunningham" can be found here.