beloved fashion photographer bill cunningham has died

The blue-coated bicycling icon of New York fashion passed away today at 87.

by Blair Cannon
26 June 2016, 12:50am

Legendary fashion photographer Bill Cunningham died today at the age of 87, after a 40-year-long career capturing sidewalk, underground, and runway fashion for The New York Times.

When The Times came out on Sunday without any photos by Cunningham, representatives from the paper reported that he had been hospitalized after a stroke, and was expected to make a quick recovery. The paper confirmed his passing earlier today.

The eccentric, bicycle-riding shutterbug passed through two months at Harvard, a brief stint in hat design, and the Korean War before starting his career in fashion photography, a career which he always approached on his own terms. Cunningham was known to turn down prestigious job offers — "Once people own you, they can tell you what to do, so don't let 'em," he warned — and later, he would politely decline interviews and awards. He even chose not to watch his own documentary, Bill Cunningham New York (2010). His obituary in The Times today remembers him as a keen-eyed observer who always got his shot — even if it meant physically climbing over people.

Cunningham only accepted an offer to work at The New York Times when he realized that he needed health insurance. For his beloved regular contribution to the paper, the "On The Street" column, Cunningham cycled throughout New York City photographing everyone from icons like Greta Garbo to an administrative assistant named Louise Doktor, who memorably sported a four-sleeved coat and a soccer ball handbag. Nothing was beyond Cunningham's personal definition of fashion or style. He would snap galas and the Golden Globes, Rei Kawakubo runway shows, portraits of Iris Apfel portraits, and stylish kids in Harlem. Anna Wintour famously remarked, "We all get dressed for Bill."

And while he adored capturing the trendy and the bizarre, Cunningham himself prefered a simple life. He dressed in a daily uniform of royal-blue French worker's jacket, khakis, and black sneakers (a look which, ironically, became iconic), and had breakfast at the same Midtown deli almost every day. He was one of those entirely individualistic New York figures (in 2009 he achieved Living Landmark status) and a cherished reminder of the joy that can be found in fashion. The luminary photographer, who gave so much to the fashion world, will only continue to inspire this city — and creative spirits everywhere.


Text Blair Cannon
Photography Paul Stein via Flickr

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