Ever heard of Bill Cunningham, a photographer for the NY Times?
Aside from a viewing of an online episode of “On the Street” a few years ago neither had I. Lori, a dear friend of mine, always interested in fashion (you should see the boots this woman wore to cut down her own Christmas tree!) introduced me to the series. I didn’t watch it. Not because it wasn’t good, but because it was like watching an aerobics video while you eat ice cream. The scrubs I was wearing shouldn’t even have been looking in the general direction of the fashionistas Bill was photographing. Yes I learned the word fashionistas from a commercial. No I don’t know if it’s a real word.
If I had known about Bill’s own preferences regarding attire I wouldn’t have felt such shame in my scrubs. He wears the same thing (blue jacket, pants, camera, and bicycle) everyday; fantastic!
Occasionally he does spruce up a little with his super sexy poncho 🙂
My favorite thing about this photo has nothing to do with the fact that he is shooting a group of women all below the waist, though there is some humor there, but rather that he has his poncho in his mouth in order to get to his camera and take the shot. As a side note check out all those awesome umbrellas – that might be my favorite New York accessory! Looking down from a tall building onto a rainy New York street – you just wouldn’t believe the number, types, sizes, and styles of umbrellas – amazing!
As it turns out Bill goes through multiple ponchos in the course of year because he puts holes in them by holding the material in his teeth just like in the picture! It’s the little things that make this man so memorable.
He has also lived in Carnegie Hall for the past 60 years – can you imagine that kind of rent control in Manhattan today?!? Sadly the small studio he has called home has been taken over for business reasons, but he bicycles on to take more pictures and make his home elsewhere. If you take the time to watch the documentary, which I strongly recommend you will meet the other faces of Carnegie Hall – Eddita is my favorite. I want to play dress up with her and look at all the pictures she has taken over the years of incredible people such as Leonard Bernstein, Salvador Dali, Henry Fonda, Eva Gabor, Angela Lansbury, and Andy Warhol.
In the documentary, Bill really lives up to the very definition of a man consumed by passion, letting all fall to the wayside in the pursuit of his dream – candid photography on the street. He has achieved a lifetime worth of incredible work, but some would say at a cost. There are no relationships of which to speak, though he claims to regret that not at all, saying repeatedly throughout his documentary that there was just not time. He avoids saying whether he is gay or straight thought it doesn’t appear to be on purpose ; leaving the viewer to wonder if he is even aware of his own sexual preference. His truly emotional moments are rawest when discussing church and family. His dedication to attending church every Sunday as a devote Catholic leaves him inexplicitly in tears when questioned about this practice. He has concern that his family may not have approved of his chosen profession as a photographer in the fashion industry due to concerns that the job was not sufficiently masculine. His insecurities with his family’s opinions of the work he does are readily apparent as he talks. It haunts him now even after 80+ years of successful living and is a poignant reminder of how far tolerance has come in the past decade.
Overall this is a story of an amazing man with incredible dedication, fabulous humor, real talent, and ethics not commonly found on the present streets of NY (or any other city for that matter). I hope you have a chance to watch this film and I look forward to your comments.
P.S. Try not to hold your breath and pray so loudly you can’t hear the audio when the 80 year old man rides his bicycle alone through the streets of NY and Central Park in the middle of the night (he makes it, I promise)…..put a whole new perspective on my concern of running around the block after dark.
Bill Cunningham New York is available to subscribers of Netflix and is available for purchase on Amazon.