Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mister Bill

New York Historical Society: Bill Cunningham: The Façades Project
Courtesy of the New York Historical Society Museum

It does not get much better.  A rainy Saturday in New York City.  A museum visit. A new find for lunch. My honey at my side and......Bill Cunningham.  As my husband sums all of the parts, he tells me that I had found Nirvana and he was so right.  Umhumumhumhum.

Bill Cunningham. If you are a New Yorker, I need not introduce him further. But, if you are not, ( and you are forgiven).....he's the 83 year old originator of street-style photography.  His series of candid photos which capture snippets of the latest fashion and style trends,  appear in the New York Times several times a week. In addition, his are the photos of the socialites, the ladies and gentlemen who would dye their blood blue just to have that one moment forever held in a one-by-one inch box, part of the montage created by Bill and his lens.  No digital photos here.  He's the real-deal, frame by frame in black and white. His rolls of film are developed by the guy who owns the shop downstairs from the Times. Contact sheets are poured over by Bill and an assistant until Bill feels that he has exactly what he was going for on any given day.  A photographer, a camera, a bicycle and a love of fashion and style, these are the essential elements of a quintessential New York icon.  Unchanged since the day he started.  Harvard drop-out, U.S. Veteran, former hat-maker, photographer and best friend to Editta Sherman. It was she who became the model for a fabulous collection of photographs, eighty-eight of which he donated, as silver gelatin prints, to the Museum of the New York Historical Society in 1976.  They were lovingly retained and now  hang in their glory in a brilliantly curated show called "The Facades Project".

The Facades Project started in 1968 when he and "The Duchess of Carnegie Hall", Sherman, began photographing pieces of  New York historical landmarks.  In period costumes, many pieces of which they found in thrift shops, Editta was photographed in front of 128 architectural settings. The stunning photographs show her interpreting the relationship between attire and the history of New York City with exquisite adherence to detail.  We see her posed in photo after photo that tell us about the style and fashion scene, covering a 200 year time span.  The photos are brilliant for so many reasons, not least of all Bill Cunningham's mastery in allowing the viewer to realize skillful pairings of articles of clothing with their surroundings.  As a former hat maker, he shows us in countless instances what his eye has seen; beautiful relationships between the form of a headpiece to that of an architectural detail,  and it is breathtaking. Black and white have never married as well.  Amen.

A new find for lunch, " Cafe Frida", on Columbus Avenue, where we devoured the best guacamole we've ever had, was a perfect choice before we strolled back up the avenue in the rain.  Were there puddles?  I honestly can't attest to that fact.  My feet never touched the ground.  


  1. A wonderful documentary film about Bill Cunningham exists, he is truly a man who has found the work of his lifetime an does it with an sense of integrity almost unbelievable in the NYC world of fashion and charity balls and celebrity. I believe it is available in the CLAMS (Massachusetts library system) and if thus also available through other libraries in other states. I've been a Bill Cunningham fan for years and years.

  2. I did see that film June. What an exceptional person! Bill Cunningham is a lovely, lovely human being and I hope he lives forever.