Before street style photos became an ubiquitous phenomenon, a genre whose posers and snappers draw crowds and snag book deals, Bill Cunningham had already been photographing the news on the streets, runways and ballroom floors of New York for decades. He’s had a hat business, a column in Women’s Wear Daily and major hand in the original Details magazine, which he would work on after hours from his job at The New York Times, where he’s been since 1978.
Cunningham’s On the Street and Evening Hours columns are fixtures of the paper, and the man in the blue French workman’s jacket is a fixture of the city’s fashion and social scenes, even as he remains at a distance from them, zipping around town a bicycle.
On Wednesday night, The Society held two screenings in Toronto of Bill Cunningham New York, director Richard Press and producer Philip Gefter’s singular portrait. The film documents Cunningham as he goes about his work and his life, which is almost entirely his work. When not recording New York life, Cunningham lives simply, until last year in a small studio above Carnegie Hall, once a home to artists, musicians and photographers. He was one of the last five tenants, a list that also included the inimitable Editta Sherman, a celebrity portrait photographer and self-taught ballet dancer who lived in her studio for over 60 years. The tenants were moved out to make way for a music school, and the film captures the last breaths of that bohemian world.
Bill Cunningham New York opens in Toronto and Vancouver on April 22, and in Montreal on April 29.