Long before street fashion photography was a thing, Bill Cunningham was roving the streets of New York in search of fashion trends and creatively dressed fellow citizens for his New York Times photo column called “On the Street.” His column ran for decades, and Cunningham was so ever-present, endearing and respected for his work that the city designated him a living landmark in 2009. Two years after his death in 2016 at the age of 87, the New-York Historical Society has mounted an exhibition called “Celebrating Bill Cunningham,” featuring some of the personal effects, correspondence, ephemera and photographs that the Historical Society acquired from his estate last year.
Cunningham would almost certainly disapprove. Famously private and unassuming, he didn’t like when anybody made a fuss over him. His own celebrity annoyed him because it got in the way of his work. He watched with joy and wonder the ever-changing styles of New Yorkers, as if the sidewalks were an endless runway. And he appreciated—or at least photographed—every fashion statement he saw, from shoes to hats to everything in between. Bare shoulders, rips and tears, outfits both elegant and flamboyant—whatever came and went, he noticed and photographed the wearers, in order to bring it to the attention of Times readers. Although fashion royalty saluted him and he was a fixture at society events—which he photographed for another Times column called “Evening Hours”—Cunningham always kept his journalistic distance. He continued working until a month before his death.
“Celebrating Bill Cunningham” features a selection of images from “Facades,” his eight-year project documenting New York City’s architectural and fashion history, as well as photographs documenting his friendship with floral designer Toni Cimino. One of the many bicycles Cunningham famously rode around the city will be on display, along with his Nikon camera and his signature blue French worker’s jacket. The exhibit will also include some of his William J hats, which he made in his millinery shop during the 1950s and early 60s, before he embarked on a career as a photographer and journalist.
“Celebrating Bill Cunningham”
The New-York Historical Society Museum and Library
June 8 through September 9