Bill Cunningham is the first name you’ll learn about when it comes to the wonderful and crazy realm of the fashion industry – from fashion photography to journalism to even well-known individuals in the industry. Nicknamed the legendary times fashion photographer, Cunningham passed away at age 87 after hospitalisation of a stroke.
As Anna Wintour once stated in the 2010 documentary about Bill, “We all get dressed for Bill.”
Cunningham documented fashion, but unlike many other photographers who shoot using fashion week and focus on certain individuals of pedigrees within the industry, Cunningham was more interested in real fashion on the streets of New York – no matter the time, location or even styles. Always in his signature blue worker’s jacket and riding his bicycle, weaving around the city of New York, he was the staple of fashion week. Some would even go so far as to say that he’s become a landmark of New York.
The grandfather of modern street style snaps, Cunningham revolutionised what would become consumerism and trends for the 40 or so years that he worked at The Times; making a point that it’s not the fashion industry that determines trends for next season, it’s the people on the street minding their own business that has come to define our generation of the stylish kind. With his weekly ‘On the Street’ column in the New York Times, Cunningham made an impact with his snapshots of all types of people in ever-changing and unique styles. Cunningham didn’t just take the pictures, but would also supervise the layout, presentation, and choice of images to go into each spread. Celebrities were rare in his column. Cunningham once stated that ‘the best fashion show is definitely on the street.’
Cunningham was not only good at his job, but he was also extremely humble despite his singular presence in the industry. Karl Lagerfeld has said that ‘he appeared and disappeared after he had done his job’, not many people knew where and how he lived; he was an extremely discreet person. A role model for many photographers, Cunningham never let the superficial industry, as he feels the industry is, dictate the way he worked and lived. Never allowing money to take control of his love of the street style photographer, it’s always been about the clothes and always will be, as his spirit and passion lives on in the industry even though he is gone.
Many in the industry have expressed their grief for the loss of Cunningham, praising and thanking him for being such a beloved and intelligent individual. The luminary photographer, who gave so much to the fashion world, will only continue to inspire creative spirits everywhere.