William John Cunningham, who we all know as Bill Cunningham, the father of street styles photography, passed away on Saturday, 25th June 2016 in Manhattan, New York at the age of 87. His death was confirmed by The New York Times shortly after he was hospitalized because of a stroke.
Starting as a hat maker in the early 60’s, Mr. Cunningham also freelanced a column for Women’s Wear Daily until 1967 when he got his camera and started his first shoot on “the Summer of Love”. Eventually, his unique style of photography (choosing to stand aside and taking pictures of fashionable people when they least expect to be photographed) suited perfectly with The Times of which he became the contributor in the 70’s. From then on, Mr. Cunningham became an important part of the Big Apple’s fashion playground and was even celebrated in cities across the Atlantic such as London and Paris.
His presence on the street was so popular that in 2009, the city of New York made him a living landmark. Anna Wintour once said in a documentary about Mr. Cunningham: “we all got dressed for Bill”. However, as fashionistas were trying hard to mix and match, putting on anything they could come up with in hope of getting Mr. Cunningham’s attention, he himself was the simplest definition of the art of clothing. New Yorkers got familiar with this old man draped in a French blue worker’s jacket, khaki pants and black sneakers and his companions – a 35 millimeters camera and a bike, which he was using for almost 40 years.
Sadly, from now on, we cannot and will never see that image ever again.
Since the news of Mr. Cunningham’s death broke out, many of his famous friends and fashion icons have paid tribute to him.
Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., The Times’s publisher and chairman expresses his condolences:
“His company was sought after by the fashion world’s rich and powerful, yet he remained one of the kindest, most gentle and humble people I have ever met. We have lost a legend, and I am personally heartbroken to have lost a friend.”
Michele McNally, The Times’s director of photography, said:
“Bill was an extraordinary man, his commitment and passion unparalleled, his gentleness and humility inspirational. Even though his talents were very well known, he preferred to be anonymous, something unachievable for such a superstar. I will miss him every day.”
David Yi, a fashion writer at Mashable, tweeted
“We can only dream of one day being a fraction of what Bill Cunningham was: Honest, humble, hardworking. He was passionate courageous #RIP”
Nowadays as street styles are vividly lived on Instagram, every moment, every second people get updated on what the others are wearing, what the new trend is, but let’s not forget the pioneer that started it first. Mr. Cunningham’s works will be the inspiration for later generations, young people who love fashion and desire to prowl the streets for a perfect shot.
Written by Trang Nguyen