UPDATE : The full talk is no longer available. Access had been made available only for a couple of weeks. I have linked the video to a partial talk.
Bill Cunningham passed away recently. He was 87 years old ( he said he never thought about his age or anyone else’s ). While I’ve know about his work and his being one of the pioneers of street style photography ( he was based out of New York and contributed to a Style Column in the New York Times ), I don’t know much about him as a person. I’ve read account of other photographers – from my generation – who met him during fashion weeks, photographing street style and most of those accounts describe Mr. Cunningham as reclusive, focused on his work and there is always mentioned of countless number of times he gave up his front row seat to someone else.
It was lovely to be able to listen to this interview in its 105 minutes long entirety. He speaks a little about his family, his first gig as a paper boy, his experience as a milliner and it gives lovely insight into the life and mind of one of the most popular street style photographers that I know of. I also live that he is so emotionally open with no pretense whatsoever about anything at all. He was recognized by his blue jacket and he traveled on his bicycle. He has been seen using a Nikon camera and he filed images for stories regularly. ( I just cannot get over the fact that he worked even when he was 86 years old. In the interview he says that he loves what he does. )
Some quotes attributed to him:
“The best fashion show is definitely on the street. Always has been, and always will be.” ( I admit I’m skeptical about applying this to all parts of the world – it doesn’t apply in New Delhi. Not yet in 2016. But I know where he’s coming from. When I was in New York last year, the best fashion show was indeed on the street! )
“I go out every day. When I get depressed at the office, I go out, and as soon as I’m on the street and see people, I feel better. But I never go out with a preconceived idea. I let the street speak to me.” ( I would so LOVE to be able to do this. In India. Fashion weeks still rule the roost when it comes to being able to catch a good yield of street style photographs. The streets of Delhi are bereft. )
“I started photographing people on the street during World War II. I used a little box Brownie. Nothing too expensive.” ( I agree. Equipment isn’t everything. It is far better to make the photo with whatever camera you have, than to wait for the perfect camera and to lose the perfect moment. )
“The wider world perceives fashion as frivolity that should be done away with. The point is that fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you can do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization.” ( I LOVE the “…fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life…” especially because he didn’t apply it to his own wardrobe – and he was completely aware of that. There’s always humor in irony. )
“You have to do three things: you have to photograph the collections, you have to photograph the women on the street who have bought the things and how they are wearing them and you have to go to the evening events.” ( Maybe I will take his advice for the next fashion week here in Delhi. )
“Money is the cheapest thing. Freedom is the most expensive thing.” ( I would like to say something about this but then this blog post will be about monetization and the craft of photography and its value and not about Bill Cunningham. I’d like to stay on-point, for now. )
“Who the hell wants a kitchen and a bathroom? Just more rooms to clean.” ( LOL! That’s totally me. The boy and I are going to have an argument about this once he’s back this time. I’m happy to throw away 75% of the “stuff” that in the apartment currently and I also hope we can move into a smaller apartment. I don’t think he is ready for either. )
“It’s as true today as it ever was, he who seeks beauty will find it.”
Please do read more about him on Wikipedia : Bill Cunningham ( American Photographer ).
There’s also a documentary by Zeitgeist Films : Bill Cunningham New York and it can be purchased for viewing on iTunes. ( Only available on the US store I’m afraid – I still haven’t watched it. )
“It’s not work, it’s pleasure. That’s why I feel so guilty. Everybody else does work — I have too much fun.”