'Bill Cunningham New York': The Man Behind the Camera

bill cunningham
Photo: Getty Images
Photographer Bill Cunningham

If you’re a fan of Bill Cunningham’s Sunday New York Times columns, don’t miss the documentary Bill Cunningham New York, a look at how the enigmatic photographer works, and more to the point, how he thinks.

Long before the popularity of street-style blogs—before the Internet was even invented—Cunningham began photographing fashionable people on the streets all day long, documenting trends for his “On the Street” column.

“See, I don’t decide anything,” the 82-year-old says in the film. “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! You don’t just manufacture in your head that skirts at the knee are the thing, and you go out and photograph people with skirts at the knee. You’ve got to stay on the street and let the street tell YOU what it is. There’s no shortcuts, believe me."

Long before the rise of celebrity journalism, Cunningham began spending each evening at fancy parties snapping pictures of New York’s rich and powerful. And back when he first started shooting runway looks at New York and Paris Fashion Week, he was often the only photographer at the shows.

In fact, Cunningham works all the time—and he’s having a ball!—because he loves fashion. Anna Wintour, Kim Hastreiter, Annette de la Renta, Met Costume Institute curator Harold Koda, and the late Brooke Astor are among the fashion and society figures who appear in the film.

Bill Cunningham New York is open now in NYC for a limited run. FashionEtc was lucky enough to take in a preview screening hosted by Harper's Bazaar. But if you're not in the area, you can pick up the magazine’s April issue: Creative director Stephen Gan reminisces about his long association with Cunningham. They met—on the street—when Gan was a fashion-obsessed college student.