If you appreciate street photography, you have one guy to thank: Bill Cunningham. In the ’70s, he maintained the “On the Street” series for the New York Times, where he took candid photos of stylish New Yorkers. The legendary photographer, who shot everyone from Greta Garbo to Gigi Hadid, passed away yesterday after suffering a stroke. He was 87.
His career as a fashion photographer began when he took impromptu photos of Greta Garbo on the street in 1978.
Arthur Gelb, his editor at the Times, called it “a turning point for the Times, because it was the first time the paper had run pictures of well-known people without getting their permission.”
Since then, he went around New York, in his trademark bicycle and blue jacket, taking photos of people. Designer Oscar dela Renta once 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.”
Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue magazine, remarked, “We all dress for Bill.”
In 2009, he was named a living landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. Two years later, a documentary about his life was released, called Bill Cunningham New York, which shows his small apartment that only had a bed, books, boxes, and filing cabinets.
In its tribute, the Times wrote:
Dean Baquet, The Times’s executive editor, said: “He was a hugely ethical journalist. And he was incredibly open-minded about fashion. To see a Bill Cunningham street spread was to see all of New York. Young people. Brown people. People who spent fortunes on fashion and people who just had a strut and knew how to put an outfit together out of what they had and what they found.
Michele McNally, The Times’s director of photography, said: “Bill was an extraordinary man, his commitment and passion unparalleled, his gentleness and humility inspirational. Even though his talents were very well known, he preferred to be anonymous, something unachievable for such a superstar. I will miss him every day.
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