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Bill Cunningham, the Legendary Fashion Photographer

Bill Cunningham, the Legendary Fashion Photographer

“Fashion is the Armour to survive the reality of everyday life” by Bill Cunningham.

Last weekend we wake up with the sad news that the fashion industry and photography world has lost a legend, who inspired so many of us during so many years.

Before the internet and before the fashion bloggers, there was Bill Cunningham, the man that didn’t want to find fame, or even document fame, he just want to captured those who were influenced by fashion in a much more authentic way.

Bill first became known as a designer of women’s hats before moving on to writing about fashion for Women’s Wear Daily and the Chicago Tribune. He began taking photographs at both runway shows and on the the streets of New York City, and his work came to the attention of The New York Times with a 1978 capture of Greta Garbo in an unguarded moment, where he worked for nearly four decades. Cunningham later said he had not recognized her while photographing her nutria coat, he just thought “Look at the cut of that shoulder. It’s so beautiful. All I had noticed was the coat, and the shoulder.”

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Cunningham spent nearly 40 years working as a fashion photographer for The New York Times. He became an integral and beloved part of the city’s fashion scene, where he  photographed people and the passing scene in the streets of Manhattan, focusing on clothing as personal expression,though of course, his influence on the industry extended far beyond New York.

“We all get dressed for Bill”, Anna Wintour said in the 2011 documentary Bill Cunningham New York.

He did not photograph people like paparazzi, preferring genuine personal style to celebrity. He once explained why he was not joining a group of photographers who swarmed around Catherine Deneuve: “But she isn’t wearing anything interesting”.

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Immediately recognizable by his signature blue jacket, bicycle, and ever-present smile, he was credited as having a unique eye for emerging fashion, whether on the streets or at industry events.

“A lot of people have taste, but they don’t have the daring to be creative. Here we are in an age of cookie-cutter sameness. There are a few that are rarities—someone who doesn’t look like they were stamped out of ten million other people looking all the same.” Cunningham said in the documentary.

He was uninterested in those who showcased clothing they had not chosen themselves, which they modeled on the red carpet at celebrity events, instead Bill loved “the Kids” as he call them, “who wore their souls on sleeves he had never seen before, or in quite that way”.

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The French government awarded him a Legion d’Honneur for his work, while he was named a Living Landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

Designer Oscar de la Renta said: “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.”

Bill made a career taking unexpected photographs of everyday people, socialites and fashion personalities, many of whom valued his company. According to David Rockefeller, Brooke Astor asked that Cunningham attend her 100th birthday party, the only member of the media invited.

“His company was sought after by the fashion world’s rich and powerful, yet he remained one of the kindest, most gentle and humble people I have ever met, says Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. We have lost a legend, and I am personally heartbroken to have lost a friend.”

Bill Cunningham will definitely be missed in the streets of the big apple.