Bill Cunningham New York documentary

Last Updated on January 15, 2016

"The best fashion show is definitely on the street." – Bill Cunningham

Bill Cunningham New York

Before I watched the Bill Cunningham New York documentary (directed by Richard Press), I had wondered why New York is given equal importance in the title as Bill Cunningham, the documentary's main subject. He is the city's most iconic street style photographer; his photo-column "On the Street" is published weekly in the New York Times, for which he also covers society events. Cunningham has been shooting street style for more than 50 years and many consider him the first ever street style photographer. Indeed, it began way before The Sartorialist!

Bill Cunningham New York - Iris Apfel

Bill Cunningham New York - Patrick McDonald

"We all get dressed for Bill." – Anna Wintour

By the time the documentary ended, the title made sense: I understood the photographer and the city are intertwined so closely that one cannot exist without the other. Bill Cunningham takes photos in other fashion capitals too (the documentary crew follows him to Paris, where apart from continuously taking photos with his little analog Nikon he also receives the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres), but New York is the place where he functions the way he wants, riding his bike all day in a sea of aggressive cabbies who should have never been given driving licenses (I'll never forget my family's flabbergasted expressions the first time we took a cab in NYC), interrupting conversations with his acquaintances because he's seen an interesting pair of wedges on the street and has to take a photo, refusing food and even water at events in order to report objectively ("Whatever that means," he adds) … The city is the bread and butter of his work and vice versa.

Designer Oscar de la Renta has said about Cunningham, "More than anyone else in the city, he has the whole visual history of the last 40 or 50 years of New York. It's the total scope of fashion in the life of New York." In terms of preserving fleeting glimpses on how we lived (and dressed, which might as well be the same thing, especially in any context involving Cunningham), Bill Cunningham and his photography are indispensable.

Bill Cunningham New York - Anna Piaggi

One of my favorite parts of the documentary is when they're talking about Details magazine with Annie Flanders, its founding editor. The original Details (started in 1982) was all about New York's "edgy fashion and nightlife scene", and Cunningham's photography was featured prominently in every issue. He contributed his work for free so that he could do whatever he wanted artistically (at the time, he had another day job to pay the bills). "You see, if you don't take money, they can't tell you what to do, kid." When Condé Nast bought Details, Cunningham again refused to cash his check. "Money's the cheapest thing. Liberty and freedom is the most expensive."

If you can afford it (figuratively and literally), I think this is the best attitude an artist can have, and I suppose the reason Cunningham was able to flourish as a photographer is precisely because he wasn't creatively restrained in any way.

Bill Cunningham New York - Isabella Blow

My mission at New York Fashion Week is to see Bill Cunningham in action, to be a part of his world. No wonder why New York is the only city where I don't feel like I'm missing out on something.

18 thoughts on “Bill Cunningham New York documentary”

  1. Great documentary. I am amazed by Bill's personality, he is so modest, non-pretentious and full of optimism, which is rarity in fashion world of superficial egos. This documentary should be shown in every fashion school in 1st year, to remember that the only important thing in fashion are clothes and only clothes. We definitely need more Bills in fashion.

  2. I am going to be honest with you, although i enjoy frequently checking out blogs i rarely find a blog that is not only readable and inspirational but it also challenges me, teaches me things, makes me think and change my opinion or stick to what i believe.
    Your blog is one of the most written blogs i've ever encountered and although this may seem as me flattering you just to get you to follow me this is not the case.
    Not that i judge people that go for "follow me and i'll follow you back" but this is not who i am and what i am searching for. And i think that neither are you. I think we both search for blogs that inspire us to follow. So i hope you don't misunderstand this message or judge me in any way.
    You are really a huge inspiration for me, the way you write each post makes me wonder if i'll ever be able to write this way. But not only your writing skills are superb but the subjects you choose to talk about are superb as well. I always find an interesting subject to read and learn from.
    As this one is,
    when people think of NY they think of Times Square, Manhattan etc etc well i think of Billy Cunningham he is assosiated with this city in a degree that even though he photographs people in other cities (as you've mentioned), his work is intergrated to what NY fashion is all about.
    He is one of the most amazing and talented photographers and although i love sartorialist no one can reach bill's awesomeness.
    i am really sorry for the extra long comment, i usually comment this way, since i always enjoy explaining my thoughts and opinions.
    i'll go comment on your other posts now since i have a lot to say and a lot to ask you.
    (especially to ask you, if you could check out my other comments and help me out with my questions it would mean the world to me)

  3. Thank you for this great and informative article. I really want to see that documentary now. I love his photography.

  4. I am going to be honest; before now I had never heard of Bill Cunningham but now I really want to know more about him! I love it when blog posts teach you something new. Thank you x

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