His career spanned decades, first as a hat maker and finally as a street photographer for the New York Times. But in between those years he was a Harvard drop-out, worked numerous odd jobs including delivering food, and was even drafted by the Army for the Korean War. Yet he will always be remembered as the boyishly charming man in his blue coat, who rode his bicycle around Manhattan photographing everything he saw – he was straight out of a children’s book.
Although his photographs were tucked into the Style section, Bill Cunningham’s photographs were more than just fashion pieces. They were diary-like documents of life in New York City. A city which he made seem like a dazzling small town made up of whimsical characters where all the denizens had an important role to play. Yet, they are all real people, putting on a ritz for their own pleasure. He documented in their natural form, always respectful, never novelty driven. From the very rich to the not-so-famous, Cunningham photographed them all the same way and with the same amount of awe. Regarding socialites, he once wrote, “I didn’t know who these people were. It didn’t mean anything to me. And then, of course, you get to realize that everybody’s the same.”
He was an important person, not just to the fashion savvy crowds of editors and stylist, but to the city of New York. For those who don’t live there, his passing feels like they will be missing out on a lot of what that city has to offer. Bill will be deeply missed.