How would you like to spend your life living in a bedsit with just a bed and a dozen filing cabinets?
How would you like to have no car, just a Schwinn bicycle that you ride everywhere, even though you’re over 80 years old?
How would you like to dine on cheap food and wear cheap clothes?
How would you like to be an octogenarian facing the prospect of being kicked out of your home?
If you’re Bill Cunningham you wouldn’t mind at all because you have something you treasure more than money or status, you have the ability to do something you truly love every day.
Bill Cunningham is a photographer who for forty years has recorded the fashions of the New York streets for the NY Times.
In the fascinating documentary ‘Bill Cunningham: New York’ we get an insight into the very private life of a man who seems a mystery even to his friends.
Here is a man who lives for what he does; photographing fashion trends. Anything that stops him from doing this in the way he wants, he dismisses. When people offer him free food at social events he declines (after all he wouldn’t to feel beholden to his guests and photography them in a dishonest way because of it?) when people add cruel captions to his photos he resigns( how can he earn the trust of the women he photographed if they are betrayed in a such a way?) when people offer him money to sell out his vision he declines( after all without integrity you have nothing , right?)
The result is a person who, even though he has never had a romantic relationship, seems convincingly happy. Proving that the most important thing above all else is staying true to your vision.
He may not be Horst or Penn or any other great fashion photographer but he is clear about what he wants to do and what he needs in order to do it well.
I would bet that 30, 40 or 50 years time you will continue to get exhibits of his photos depicting street styles of New York during its heyday, in the way you get exhibits of Atget depicting the buildings and courtyards of old Paris.
Bill Cunningham is the fashion documenter par excellence.