A few nights ago Laura Kate and I went to see a screening of Bill Cunningham New York at the Cooper Design Space. You probably know Bill’s work even if you don’t know him by name—he photographs and writes those adorable little trend vignettes in the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times that you probably look at before anything else. They’re like comic strips for style-minded adults.
I’m a fan of the brazen and bizarre fashion worn for better or for worse by everyday people (case in point) so I could have watched the film just for the outfits alone. Plus, it’s such a great film about cities. Maybe the best parts of the whole film are watching Bill zoom around town on his Schwinn (no helmet!) and dancing around long-legged women in crosswalks. Each time he’s inside, at a computer, or stopping to eat (not very often for any of those things) you can see how antsy and anxious he is—he just wants to get back outside as soon as possible and check out the parade of outfits.
But the film also says so much about perfecting a craft. This is the life of someone truly devoted to his calling, where every moment of his existence is laser-focused onto doing what he loves. To the point where he lives like a monk in a tiny apartment in Carnegie Hall, surrounded by what seem to be his only possessions: endless metal file cabinets of his negatives. But he gets such joy from his work he has even refused to get paid for it—he notoriously ripped up his first checks from Details. All of it fills you with such hope for keeping at it. This film is a must-see for every creative.
Bill’s giggly, exuberant passion echoed in my head as we stepped out into the light fading slowly above the fashion district. The murky June twilight was doing wonders with the candy-colored signage of the menswear shops. And I did what I always do when that happens. I snapped some photos.
I guess in a way, I’m a street photographer, too. But in the sense that I actually take photos of streets. But as I snapped this shot, I realized that, with the exception of two spindly legs, I hardly ever put people in my photos.
When I look back fifty years from now at all my thousands of photos, stored in their rows of file cabinets on the internet, will it really matter that I got yet another shot of the Eastern Columbia building, as gorgeous as she is? (I mean, she is kinda the Anna Wintour of Los Angeles buildings.) Or will I want to remember the guy in the seersucker suit standing on the terrazzo near the entrance? Bill Cunningham taught me that if I want to truly be studying urbanism, I also need to be looking at who’s walking in front of those buildings. It’s the people who make the cities.
That night on the street, I went to aim the other direction, towards the funny handpainted signs of Italian Corner. But this time, I tilted the camera just so, and put Laura Kate into the shot.
More photos of streets (and other things!) here.