Bill Cunningham: New York
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 10th July 2011
From a fictional film about someone who wishes he was a photographer, to an award winning documentary about someone who has never known anything else.
If you’re ever traversing the streets of the Big Apple, make sure you wear something eye-catching and interesting. You never know – a wiry old man on a bicycle may snap your picture and print you in the New York Times.
Bill Cunningham has been photographing New Yorkers for decades, featuring their idiosyncrasies in his weekly “On the Street” column. He attends a few catwalk shows, shooting rolls of real film (later digitised for publication) but Cunningham is more interested in the reality of what people actually wear, spotting emerging fashions often before the designers have deigned it. One week the locals may be wearing black and white hound’s-tooth; the next it’s printed gumboots. As he says: “the best fashion show is on the street”.
Curiously, the thing that makes Cunningham such an endearing and watchable subject is not, compared with The September Issue, the fashion industry itself. Sure, he’s been chronicling Anna Wintour’s sartorial expression since she was young, and he is highly esteemed by those in the business. But Cunningham’s grace and humility is astounding. He shuns the glamour and money that could be afforded him, choosing instead to live in a tiny shoebox of an artists’ studio in Carnegie Hall, sleeping on an austere single bed between rows of filing cabinets that house his entire career.
He eschews payment for his work (“If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do”).
Those interviewed admit that they know next to nothing about the private Bill, and filmmaker Richard Press delicately attempts to uncover a true portrait of the artist as an old man.