Sunday, June 26, 2016
IN MEMORIAM: BILL CUNNINGHAM
It is with the heaviest of hearts that we write this post. By now, the world has heard of the passing of Bill Cunningham.
His fans are legion. He was definitely old school and a real gentleman, but never a fuddy-duddy. In Sanskrit, "Mahatma" means "Great Soul" and Bill Cunningham was a Mahatma of the first order.
Word spread quickly yesterday on Instagram, Facebook and cable and network TV news. Nobody wanted to believe it. Many shared anecdotes about how they were touched by their interactions with Bill in terms that rivaled descriptions of meeting Pope Francis or Mother Teresa. But their descriptions were heartfelt and not exaggerated. He was 87, and after he reached 80 without hanging up his camera, we just assumed we could keep him forever.
He was a fixture at Fashion Week in New York and across the globe. Over nearly four decades he chronicled street fashion and elevated it to an art form.We were lucky enough on several occasions to have met and been photographed by Bill and to chat with him. Every encounter was a privilege and being photographed elicited an inner "Eeeeeeeeeeeeee" reaction in each of us. The world is a far less interesting place without Bill in it.
We wanted to share just a small number of our encounters in memory of Bill.
You could say it all started in 1997, the first year Valerie joined the Easter Parade. She had no idea who Bill was, but she'd seen the annual photo array, and figured she should participate. Everyone photographs everyone at Easter, so as far as Valerie was concerned, Bill could be anyone with a camera. It wasn't until Easter of 2001 that Valerie finally made it into the paper. (See the lady in the green hat and yellow suit?)
When she saw the photo, Valerie knew EXACTLY who'd taken it from that angle. It was a broadly smiling, slim elderly man in a very un-Easter-ly bright blue jacket, who'd taken several shots while alternately crouching and springing forward to keep up with the crowd.
That first success was enough to keep Valerie going back every year, like a gambler at a blackjack table.
When the two of us met, of course we had to do the Easter Parade together, and in 2009 Bill rewarded our first joint effort. At the time, we didn't know how to do screen grabs, but these are the photos that appeared in the paper and in the video:
Here's Jean with our friend Tziporah Salamon (the first time for both of them)
and Valerie with our friend Shiho (who made her own hat).
We made it in again for Easter of 2011 (video here)
And for Asia Week, 2012 (bottom left quarter of the page), among other occasions.
Bill gave us the most wonderful Christmas present imaginable when he featured us wearing Carol Markel's felt helmets in the center of On the Street just before Christmas of 2012. We like to think Bill had a special place in his heart for hats. Before he took up professional photography, he was a milliner, making hats under his own label, William J.
In October 2013, we attended Issey Miyake's Hues of Red party with our pal Shelley aka Forest City Fashionista, and were thrilled to be photographed by Bill. Shelley and Jean appeared in the New York Times in Bill's Evening Hours coverage of the Miyake party - along with Henry Pierre, Louise Doktor and Tziporah Salamon and a lady with red dreads and a terrific gold-toned jacket. Valerie arrived only minutes later, but the moment was gone. Timing is everything.
(To see the full New York Times page, scroll down or click here for a blow-up.)
Here we are again in Bill's coverage of the September 2015 opening night party for FIT's "Fashion Underground: The World of Susanne Bartsch" exhibition (video here).
What now turns out to be our final encounter with Bill took place just this past April 1, again at Easter. That's us in the top left corner.
It is definitely the end of an era. It is too soon to wonder whether someone else will take over On the Street and Evening Hours, but even if someone does, no one will ever replace Bill. We can all take some comfort knowing that he loved his work - it's fair to say his life was his work, and his greatest source of pleasure - and that he had the rare privilege of continuing to do what he loved until just days before his death. We hope he would have been tickled pink to know how much he is missed and how many lives he touched.
We have lost an icon. But we had him so much longer than we had any right to expect.