Monday, April 11, 2011

The Original Street Style: Bill Cunningham New York

Yesterday was one of those Sundays that stretched out in front of you and made you remember that...hey, you have all day to do whatever you want....and hey, it's spring...and hey, don't forget...this city is bigger than your sofa and dvr'd reality tv. Which is precisely why Sunday is my favorite day of the week. Socially acceptable drinking before noon having nothing to do with my decision. So I clicked off my reality tv and went to see some reality filmaking instead. Bill Cunningham New York was a fantastic documentary inside the life of the original street style photographer.
Gorilla street style photography is not only trendy , it's where the trends start. But all of it started with Bill, who published his first page of chopped together photos from the streets in the New York Times in the late 70's. Fastforward 30 years of so and you'll still find him, on his bicycle shooting the streets of New York, Paris and abroad. The most famous photographer you never knew was there.

The documentary is striking in it's simplicity. Bill Cunningham is striking in his simplicity. In a city where social climber is tattooed like a gang sign, he loves his work, loves clothing and the rest is simply not to be concerned with. Do what you love because you love it, not because of what it will bring you. (Which in this case, brought him high honors from the French Ministry of Culture, which he accepted wearing his workday standard blue street sweeper smock). Something I plan to repeat to myself daily.

His more than modest living teeters from striking to a bit alarming. One of the last artists in residence at Carnegie Hall, the film follows Bill as he settles on an apartment to relocate to after being forced out of his studio. The furnishings of which consist of 301 file cabinets full of his entire photo archive and 1 twin bed. I hope my simple can have a balcony.

My absolute favorite clip in the film comes from one of his long photographed socialite acquaintances who simply quips "Bill has never taken a nasty photo in his life. He focuses on fashion and photography as positives that build you up, not tear you down." There are no Do's and Don't's with black boxes scrawled across shamed faces. He's not about that and doesn't want his work to be either. Just real women in their real clothing, looking real and beautiful. If you have the Do's why do you need the Don'ts?
Bill was the original street style photographer, but the ones to follow behind him have a pretty amazing eye as well. Here are some of the recent shots that made it into my inspiration files from two of my favorites. Vanessa Jackman:

And the reigning king of street style: The Sartorialist


  1. It most be fun taking pictures of models wearing stylish clothing.

    -Zane of ontario honey