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Blog // Images // Thoughts
June 26, 2016

Bill Cunningham

I woke today to the news that iconic fashion and street photographer Bill Cunningham had passed away. It’s really hard to articulate how influential Cunningham was, since so much of the way we understand fashion today, especially the way fashion is portrayed on social media, comes from his approach to photographing the most fabulous and […]

I woke today to the news that iconic fashion and street photographer Bill Cunningham had passed away. It’s really hard to articulate how influential Cunningham was, since so much of the way we understand fashion today, especially the way fashion is portrayed on social media, comes from his approach to photographing the most fabulous and on-trend styles seen on New York’s streets.

Bill Cunningham New York

Cunningham rose to prominence for many thanks to the excellent documentary about his life and work, Bill Cunningham New York. My list of the best films I saw in 2011 put Bill Cunningham New york put the film at 4 (being Midnight in Paris, A Separation and The Tree Of Life and ahead of Drive). In a short review I said the film was,

“A beautifully drawn portrait of a photographer whose work has been often imitated but seldom equalled. The pacing and editing of this film is exceptional as it reveals the uniquely important role Cunningham plays in the world of fashion and the life of a great city.”

The documentary cemented in people’s minds the iconic image of an elderly Cunningham riding his bike through the streets of New York, capturing people’s moments of individual style, then diligently editing his work to discuss trends and movements in fashion.

A Lifelong Legacy

Cunningham was 87 when he passed away and as the New York Times reports he still working up until near his demise. This is an extraordinary part of his legacy. That’s 20-25 years past the age most people try to retire. That’s a lot of work, a lot of week’s worth of fashion columns, literally thousands of photos, during a time when many would expect a professional to have hung up their pen and camera.

My heart aches to see people my age or younger, already trying to wind down their careers, already playing for retirement. I guess it depends on your goals in life. Bill Cunningham loved his work. His work made sense of his world. So, there was never a reason to quit. Because of that he leaves behind a huge legacy of work for us to enjoy and look back on.

Thank you Bill.

Responses
Toni 2 years ago

“Bill Cunningham loved his work. His work made sense of his world. So, there was never a reason to quit.”

A very strong reason for so many of your contemporaries to want to quit, most like. So little work appears to add good things to the world, to make sense or to be an activity one can love. Who wants to keep doing that?

We also tire of the things we once thought to be good, or of the need to grinding through, where those activities are a grind. I’m shortly going to start a new job doing things I’ve ‘always’ done, that should help the world to be a better place. I’m glad for the opportunity, for a chance to push again (and it is a push) and to learn new stuff. If I were dealing with money or advertising, real estate or sales, I know I’d feel differently. I did once have a job just grinding out bits of metal in a factory that made leg calipers – after 2 weeks I’d learned most of the work, and couldn’t imagine doing that for a year, let alone a lifetime. Even so, I know a time will come when I’ll be glad to lay down my pipettes and give myself to other things (probably involving a camera too).

So many that I’ve known who have ‘retired’ have blossomed, looked younger, been happier, more fulfilled. Few, it seems, get a chance to be like Bill in their working lives.

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