Friday, 20 January 2017

FASHION FOCUS: BILL CUNNINGHAM: THE MAN BEHIND THE CAMERA

A simple man, with an incredible eye not just for style, or fashion or photography for that matter, but for people. For the people on the streets going about their everyday lives, in a city that is quite literally brimming with life. In THE city, in New York City. A man with the ability to capture the interesting, the stories of us as humans, the stories of humanity that we take with us everywhere we go in our hearts and our souls that effect us in many ways and make us who we are and the stories that the clothes we wear and the style we carry tell about us as people and as individuals. That man was Bill Cunningham and this is his story, a story of a man behind a camera.



For nearly forty years, Bill captured every style and trend that was popular in the 20th and 21st century, whilst riding his bike around the streets of New York from 1978 up until his devastating death in June 2016. He made them his own, in a small column in The New York Times called 'On The Street'. From scrunchies to snapbacks, denim to dungarees, stripes to spots, he inevitably and essentially gave birth to something that today is done by everyone, from giant fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle to bloggers like Susie Bubble and Trendy Crew or even just your avid street style photographer, all with the same idea: to capture and showcase a trend and a moment in time. But he didn't just capture trends, he captured the very essence of who we are as individuals, our style because after all, our clothes say a lot about us, our moods, how we feel or even who we are as people. He did it brilliantly, making trends of his own that people wanted to read about and see within his column and was rewarded and honoured for his work throughout his life, receiving several awards for his contribution, not only to the fashion industry but to the creative arts, including an award in 1983 from The Council of Fashion Designers of America for outstanding photographer of the year, a living landmark award from New York's Landmarks Conservancy back in 2009 and in 2012, he received the Carnegie Hall Medal of Excellence (the invitation read "Come Dressed for Bill").

In 2012, Richard Press created a small short film entitled 'Bill Cunningham: New York', which I first got to see when it was released on Netflix (I was on a documentary haul that day). It gave us an insight into his personal and professional life, both behind and in front of the camera, from his work in previous magazines that he had founded to his love and family life in his younger years.  But I was truly inspired by what I saw and the man that I was learning about. It follows the everyday life of Bill as he shoots his photography on the streets, at parties, at social events and even at Paris Fashion Week. But I think for me one of the things I love the most about the film, and that made me smile the most was the positivity and respect that every major part of the fashion industry has for Bill including Iris Apfel (who herself has had a documentary made about her style and her role as a fashion icon). Anna Wintour herself said "I think that everyone who knows Bill and understands who he is and what he represents, will always be thrilled to be photographed by Bill. I've said many times that we all get dressed for Bill".



But even after his death, his work continues to inspire me and many others. My work with Manchester street photographer 'The Mancorialist'  heavily influences the look of our street style collaborations that I thoroughly enjoy creating for my blog. "You have to do three things. You don't get the most information from anyone in particular. You have to photograph the collections, you have to photograph the women on the street who had bought the things and how they're wearing them, and then you have to go to the evening events. You can't report to the public unless you've seen it all. People just go off and say what they think. Well, it isn't really what I think, it's what I feel". I think for me one of the main reasons in which I chose to use The Mancorialists work, was because in many ways it reminds me of Bill's. The ability to capture a natural moment, without asking people to stop and 'pose' for the image. A moment in time captured forever for people to marvel over or be inspired by in different ways. A moment and an image that in one hundred years time from now, people will look back on and be shocked by, be inspired by or maybe just as we look back on the imagery and style from one hundred years in the past, may think to themselves "did people really dress like that?". And that is the magic of the camera, the image and the man behind it.

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