Welcome to The Cuckoo Jar, a blog by Nanna Koekoek - illustrator, music- and flea market junkie.
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10 April 2012

Bill Cunningham New York

Earlier this week I watched a lovely documentary on fashion photographer Bill Cunningham. Bill is 83 years old and has been photographing New York City street style for the last few decades. You see this kind of photography all over the place now, in magazines and fashion blogs, but Mr. Cunningham is its true godfather. Hardly anything was known about his personal life up until this documentary and it took the makers 10 years to make this movie, from which 8 were spend on trying to convince Bill to cooperate! In the end he gave in and the result is an amazing film about an amazing man; it didn't cease to amaze me!

Like, the man is the biggest workaholic ever. Every day, rain or shine, he cycles through NYC to capture the city's birds of paradise. During the day he snaps the extraordinary ordinary people on the street and at night he photographs the he rich and famous at charity events and galas for his weekly columns On the Street and Evening Hours in The New York Times. Uptown and downtown he goes and uptown again. He can't stop, he even takes pictures during his own award ceremony/party.

And like, the man has a backbone. He doesn't take money for his photographs, because "if you don't take money they can't tell you what to do". He doesn't care if the person in front of his lens is a celebrity or not; if he or she isn't wearing anything interesting he will not press the shutter. He will not tolerate that his photographs are being you used to ridicule people, to judge them and label them 'hot' or 'not'.

It's also remarkable that, as much as he loves beautiful, extravagant clothes, Mr. Cunningham looks rather inconspicuously. Always wearing  a very practical, janitor-like blue overcoat. He doesn't care for food (more than once we see him eating at Maccy D's), nor comfort - he has lived in a tiny apartment above Carnegie Hall for 60 years. His flat is filled with filing cabinets, containing his photos and film. Somewhere in between lies his bed (a mattress raised on magazines!) and there is no bathroom. Really, his life is his work (Bill: "it's not work; it's pleasure!"). He has his reasons for his lifestyle, and you get a hint of why at the end of the movie...

I won't spoil anymore of the peculiarities that this movie reveals on Bill Cunningham. Because you should watch it. It doesn't matter if you're into beautiful clothes or beautiful pictures or not, because that's not what this film is about. It really is "deeply moving and visually stunning".
∧ A few spreads from Bill's column On The Street in The New York Times. Bill also gives a weekly digest of what's going on fashion-wise on the streets of New York through an audio commentary and a slide show on the NY Times website. They are a joy!

Bill Cunningham New York is now screening in UK cinemas and is available on DVD.  Watch the trailer:

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