“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 civilization.” - Bill Cunningham
After recently wanting to find out more about prominent photographers as part of my own learning process, a local independent theatre was showing a film about a street fashion photographer by the name of Bill Cunningham. I purposely didn’t research Cunningham prior to the showing as I wanted to watch with no expectations or bias going in.
Bill Cunningham works out of New York City and has been doing so since around the 1960’s just when street fashion was really booming. He has made a huge contribution to fashion photojournalism with his photos of celebrities & socialites as well as passers-by wearing stylish and trendy outfits.
The film follows Cunningham from his tiny and I mean TINY apartment at Carnegie Hall. There’s no closet, kitchen or private bathroom as Cunningham jokes “Who the hell wants a kitchen and a bathroom? Just more rooms to clean.” The only space he has is a makeshift bed and a ton of filing cabinets packed with film negatives that Cunningham has done over the years.
He also cycles around the city as he has for many decades armed with his trusty film camera. You even see him lock his bicycle right outside The New York Times building that he currently works for. This is clearly a traditional man in every sense of the word and early on you find out that this is not your average guy with a camera by a long shot.
The film also interviews various friends and colleagues as well as Cunningham himself giving a insider’s look at his workflow and perspective on photography, fashion and life in general. Cunningham’s dedication to his craft is amazingly impressive as you see Cunningham ‘working’ at his own award party in Paris saying to one of the guests “My dear, it’s not work, it’s pleasure.”
You can’t help but admire his passion and quirkiness but the film does highlight the possible regret and sadness that Cunningham has concerning his private life. Even bringing me close to tears at some points in the film as some of the questions do get quite personal.
As a photographer myself, there was a lot to take away from this film but even if you’re not a keen photographer, I believe that you’ll still find it to be an enjoyable experience and taking a line from the man himself: “It was marvellous!”