This is about a documentary called Bill Cunningham New York
. Actually, it's a plea to watch a documentary called Bill Cunningham New York
. For some of you, knowing that it's about an eighty year old photographer who has been chronicling New York's street fashion for decades will be enough to induce you to seek it out and watch it: you like fashion, you like photography, you like New York, you just plain like documentaries. But even if this film doesn't immediately sound relevant to your interests, give it a chance because it's a wonderful story, a very human story, about a man who has a passion, who has integrity, who doesn't allow himself to be bowed by other people's opinions, and who is kind in a cut-throat industry and and cut-throat city.
Bill Cunningham is fascinated by fashion and one of the few photographers to be invited to sit in the front rows of designer shows instead of being crammed into the press gallery at the end of the catwalk. But what he truly loves is how regular people take what the designers produce and wear it, reinterpreted through their own viewpoint, on the street. He spends most of his life riding the streets of New York on an old Schwinn bicycle or walking the pavements so that he can dart off at any moment to get the perfect picture of someone's outfit. He doesn't care if they're rich, famous, or a complete nobody - he only cares about the clothes. By taking so many pictures he notices trends that everyday people are generating - sometimes it's a colour or element. This he makes the focus of his "On The Street" feature in The New York Times
. On other occasions he chooses to focus on something that fascinates him like shoes or the rain ponchos people wear in bad weather.
At night he goes to photograph charity galas, choosing them not for their guest list but for which cause he wants to devote column inches to. No matter who is there, he always finds something interesting, something beautiful, and the rich and fashion elite recognise and respect him for his choices. Anna Wintour says early in the film - and it's in the trailer so it's not too great a spoiler:
"I think everyone knows Bill and understands who he is and what he represents will always be thrilled to be photographed by Bill. I mean, I've said many times that we all get dressed for Bill."
But Bill himself is a man of contradictions. He doesn't wear clothes that are expensive, designer made, or particularly stylish. Most often he can be seen in the blue smock worn by the street cleaners of Paris because it's got a lot of convenient pockets. Nor does he accept any of the perks that are offered to him, not wanting his integrity to be compromised. He lives in an apartment in Carnegie Hall that is crammed with filing cabinets full of negatives, sleeping on a tiny camp bed, and uses a bathroom across the hall.
Bill's life is strange, but he obviously feels that it is incredibly rich because he gets to do what he loves. He's warm and funny, ready to laugh and be delighted, and thoroughly engaging when on screen. His story is fascinating and his contribution to fashion and photography will surprise you.
If you want to watch the film but are at a loss where too find it, drop me a line. For those that don't mind a little more spoiling, I hope this picspam whets your appetite for more.
( It isn’t what I think, it’s what I see. )