Tonight I escaped to a world of a man whom many of us may never have heard of him until recently, his name is Bill Cunningham.
Bill Cunningham is responsible for photographing (only in colored film!) and laying out the photos of street style for the New York Times Style section on Sunday. A man who is well into his 80's (?!?!?!) but has more spunk and charmisma than any 20 something I've ever met.
After enjoying a dinner and catching up, my friend Erin and I headed to the theater to watch the documentary of Bill Cunningham; I already want to head right back into the theater and watch it again.
This was one of the most enjoyable biographies I have ever seen. I have never smiled and laugh so much watching a person in action. My emotions went from highs of the highs, to sinking low while holding back tears.
Bill's life is extraordinarily simple and so fulfilling. Coming from a background of middle class Americans who were Catholic (a part of Bill that is sensitive and meaningful to him), Bill chose to dive into the world of fashion, even when his family frowned upon it. On the verge of designing a major line of hats for the fashionable elite, he received a draft, and showing his character, he answered to the call of duty and walked away from the life of potential money and fame.
After serving our country, Bill came back and continued designing and immersing himself into the world of fashion. But it was when he received his first camera as a gift did Bill truly shine. Being there from the beginning of personal street fashion, and capturing every moment, he has become a legend. A title he laughs off. He has captured the essence of the street, bringing the world fashion that was unpretentious and unattainable.
In the film, we follow Bill through several weeks of his daily life and some parts can bring tears to your eyes as it did to mine. He was modest in his appearance, the same colored pants, street sweeper's blue jacket, a hat and a rain pancho he'd tape up if it ripped. He ate simple breakfast sandwiches and unknown diners and drank his cup of coffee. He was the man of the streets.
But then we also see the other side of Bill. The man who is welcomed into the upper society of New York city with open arms and kisses. He does all this with the sweetest smile you would ever see. His toothy grin was all the same with whomever he photographed, because to him, it is always about the clothes.
He is far from a paparazzi, he is an artist who captures true genuine style. While other photographers are busy chasing celebrities with their "free dresses," he's on the sideline photographing attendees or street people who chose to dress in their own unique way.
His work ethics and moral code are so rare to find these days, and perhaps that's why I felt tears welling up because genuineness and true passion are so hard to come by these days. He truly loves his work and it is in everything he does.
He in particular, but never too pushy to the point of being unlikeable. I'm sure those who work with him sometimes felt like shaking him for being unwavering in some choices, but respected him enough to not do so. How could you, when the man gives you that toothy grin?
Very few people know about Bill, even though he has captured their photos for the past 20+ years. All anyone can really recall is his habits, his Schwin bike and his tiny apartment in the legendary Carnige Hall.
When doing fashion shows, Bill wasn't part of the fancy photographers who were lost in the sea of lenses at the end of the runway, he was on the side, capturing what was truly important, the essence of fashion with one question in mind, "Was it wearable for regular people?" If the answer was no, then it was no good to Bill. For he was the man of the people, an advocate for personal fashion, not models or celebrities.
As I've mentioned before, I couldn't help but continue smiling throughout this film. It was upbeat, and funny, because Bill is a funny guy who leaves everyone he's talked to with a smile on their face. Only two parts did he break away from that smile. One was when Paris awarded him with a prestigious art & design award pinned to his workmen's jacket and the other when asking about his religion.
Here was a man who was selfless when it came to this world. He never created a family or had relationships because his love and life was in all this. A world in which he lived in a tiny studio with walls of file cabinets filled with every negative he's taken. A man who never asked for more, nor accepted anything from anyone. He believed in being free, and to him, "Once they pay you, they own you."
I don't know why I want to laugh and cry for or with Bill. Bill is an example of what it truly means to live a simple life. So many of us say we want that, but we are far from even being this close. Possessions and accessories hold little value to Bill, and that is admirable. And perhaps I want to cry because the level of genuineness that exudes from him is something that is so hard to come by these days.
Please watch this wonderful movie about a man, his camera and bicycle and how he's captured New York City, one roll of film at a time.