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Bill Cunningham is a legend in a blue jacket. With two long running fashion columns in The New York Times, including the famous “On the Street”, Cunningham’s name is synonymous with modern fashion reporting. “Bill Cunningham New York ” is a portrait of the life of this extraordinary man.
Even at eighty, Cunningham’s days are full. Most days, he leaves his tiny one-room studio in Carnegie Hall to cycle around New York City, taking photographs of fashions and trends he sees on the street. He photographs the famous and influential -Anna Wintour; Iris Apfel, Tom Wolfe – but he is just as interested in photographing the ordinary people he sees. Because for Cunningham, it is not about the people – it is about the clothes. Which of the new designs people are actually wearing, and how they are putting them together. Who has that unique “something” that makes them extraordinary. At night, he changes into a suit and continues cycling, this time to photograph the attendees at various balls and galas across the city. The best of these photographs end up in his New York Times columns.
Cunningham lives by his own personal philosophy. He has never accepted any money for the thousands of photographs he takes or the columns he writes, though by now he could have been a wealthy man. As he puts it “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do.” In this way, Cunningham has complete freedom over what he photographs and publishes – and that’s the way he, and his readers, like it.
As director Richard Press follows Cunningham through his daily life and his annual pilgrimage to the fashion shows in Paris, Cunningham’s joy in his life and work is glorious to watch. Interviews with friends and people he has photographed – like Wintour, Apfel, Wolfe and Patrick McDonald show Cunningham’s extended influence, and the great affection and admiration the fashion world feels for him.
His life is not without complications – at the time of filming Carnegie Hall was in the process of trying to rehouse the remaining artists living in their studios. But Cunningham does not appear concerned – he’ll go on as usual, no matter where he lives.
by Rebecca Boyle