Remembering Bill Cunningham (1929-2016)

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The news has just broken in New York that the legendary street style photographer, Bill Cunningham, has died, following a stroke. He was 87. He had worked at the New York Times for the past 40 years, regularly contributing to his column, On The Street, in which he shared his observations  of what he saw while riding around on one of his many bicycles, clicking away at life. The Times’s report of his passing, published  on June 25, the day of his death, describes him “both as a dedicated chronicler of fashion and as an unlikely cultural anthropologist, one who used the changing dress habits of the people he photographed to chart the broader shift away from formality and toward something more diffuse and individualistic.” I can corroborate that.

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Mr. Cunningham shot me once, in Paris, where I was covering the shows for my newspaper in Toronto. We didn’t speak, and yet we had a conversation. He may have already clicked before I noticed him, down on one knee, near the Trockedero. I knew who he was, of course I did!, and was quite startled and then flattered that he had wanted to photograph me. I looked into his camera. I smiled. He smiled. That was me saying thank-you, him saying you’re welcome. And then he was off. I don’t know if he ever published the image. But I remember the moment vividly, and know what I had that likely caught his eye– a zebra print purse. That must have been it.

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Animal inspired prints were everywhere that season and he had caught me, slavishly following the trend. That was his special gift: pinpointing moments in the fashion parade and preserving them in both image and memory. How fortunate I am to have had such a rare individual cross my path. He made the ephemeral seem eternal. May his legacy be as lasting.