Bill Cunningham, the New York Times photographer whose attention stylish city dwellers consistently relished, has died. He was 87.
Cunningham was perhaps best known to the nation as the subject of the 2010 documentary Bill Cunningham New York, which turned the lens on the life of the quixotic chronicler of street fashion whose career spanned more than 40 years.
But New Yorkers knew him somewhat differently: Despite his age, Cunningham was a constant presence around the city, employing his sharp eye for everyday trends everywhere from parks to street corners to the annual Jazz Age Lawn Party. It was always a delight to see him in his omnipresent blue jacket, often riding his bicycle with his trusty Nikon around his neck.
Cunningham’s eye may have been unceasingly democratic, but his presence was always welcomed by the city’s upper crust: As John Fairchild said in a 2002 Times profile:
You know, he’s like a pixie on a bicycle. You’re at some dreary event. Suddenly, there’s a flash, a wonderful word, and he just lifts you up.
And Anna Wintour:
I don’t know how many times he has taken my photograph, but we all dress for Bill. You feel he’s the only one who notices or cares how you dress. I wonder if Bill will like this. And it’s always a flattering picture he chooses. He picks everything carefully, so you will look your best. He’s a very seductive guy.
Cunningham dropped out of Harvard in 1948, at which point he began working in women’s clothing stores. He was hired by Fairchild to cover fashion for Women’s Wear Daily, and his first photo set for the Times debuted in 1978.
“I don’t decide anything,” he said in the documentary. “I let the street speak to me, and in order for the street to speak to you, you’ve got to stay out there and see what it is.”
While Cunningham didn’t himself enjoy attention, he nevertheless got it: In 2009, the New York Landmarks Conservancy name him a “Living Landmark;” he was profiled in the New Yorker shortly thereafter.
Cunningham was recently hospitalized after having a stroke. His death was reported by the Times on Saturday.
His last piece, a study in the duality of black and white, ran on June 3.
Image via Getty.