Bill Cunningham, the Godfather of street style photography

The man who turned street-style into an art form died on Saturday at age 87, after suffering a stroke last week.

For nearly 40 years Bill Cunningham has been one of the leading names of The New York Times (from 1978 to present), always present with his blue coat and his 32mm lens at the most important events of the Big Apple.

Before starting his photographic career, Cunningham has also been a talent scout, discovering American talents such as Azzedine Alaia and Jean Paul Gaultier while working as a fashion journalist.

It was the New York Landmarks Conservancy that made him a living landmark in 2009, the same year The New Yorker, in a profile, described his On the Street and Evening Hours columns as the city’s unofficial yearbook: “an exuberant, sometimes retroactively embarrassing chronicle of the way we looked.”

He wanted to find subjects, not be the subject. He wanted to observe, rather than be observed. Asceticism was a hallmark of his brand. “Money’s the cheapest thing. Liberty and freedom is the most expensive.”

 

“When I’m photographing,” Mr. Cunningham once said, “I look for the personal style with which something is worn — sometimes even how an umbrella is carried or how a coat is held closed. At parties, it’s important to be almost invisible, to catch people when they’re oblivious to the camera — to get the intensity of their speech, the gestures of their hands. I’m interested in capturing a moment with animation and spirit.