The only way to describe American Fashion Photographer for The New York Times, Bill Cunningham, is legendary. His death in June 2016 sparked remorse from all over the fashion industry and public. Now more than ever, it is important to appreciate the genius of Cunningham and reflect on the work he has done in fashion. Cunningham elevated street photography to another level and has had the respect of fashion influencers, from Anna Wintour, Editor-In-Chief of American Vogue, to supermodel, Iman.
In the Biography/Documentary, Bill Cunningham New York, Cunningham’s personality is brought to the forefront. Always full of life, positive and determined to get the shot. He seems unfettered by the hectic state of New York and acts as a calming force by capturing moments amongst the chaos perfectly. From this, Cunningham is seen to be genuinely passionate about his work. His work means everything to him, and this sort of desire can only act as an example for others. Truly inspirational. Around the time of Cunningham’s passing, British Supermodel Naomi Campbell summarised his personality as – “a great man with a beautiful soul.”
Street fashion photography is undeniably shaped by Cunningham’s photographs. An important thing to learn about Cunningham, is that he was an egalitarian. The ethos of everyone being equal resonated with him and manifested in his photographs. His muses were everyday people, walking the streets. There is something to be said about wanting the focus to not be on celebrities and pop culture, which is a prominent feature of the 2000s, but to look at everyday people, as fashionable. This is not to say that famous figures in fashion are not featured in Cunningham’s photographs, but that the attraction of their celebrity isn’t the focus for Cunningham, his outlook is simpler than that.
Cunningham once said, “There’s no reason to be doom and gloom and think that fashion is finished. The best fashion show is definitely on the street. Always has been and always will be.” Street style, for Cunningham is fun, it is this perspective of street style, which gives life to his photographs. They are, perhaps, too candid and too real, but this is the exact essence of fashion in real life. Runway shows are crafted by the designer to fit their own vision. The street style of regular individuals does not fit into one single vision, and therefore makes a more entertaining runway, which Cunningham captures brilliantly. In essence, Cunningham is a figure adored personally by all those with a respect for who he is, but also the professionalism he assumed at The New York Times.