For those who are still looking out there for authenticity and detachment from the conformism of the modern society Bill Cunnigham New York is the documentary to watch.
Cunningham, 81, has been documenting the fashions found on New York Streets for the last 50 years. With a battered Nikon camera, he goes everywhere on his bicycle, snapping anything that catches his eye.
Reclusive, and fiercely private about his personal life, it took Richard Press, the film’s director and his producer, Philip Gefter, eight years to convince their subject to appear in the documentary.
From Upper East Side swans, European royalty and aspiring fashionistas; to street gangs, punks, downtown transvestites and even bicycle messengers – if there is something interesting to say about the clothes, Cunningham will snap them.
Cunningham attends the fashion shows in New York and Paris, he also covers the most prestigious social events each night in New York for his page in the New York Times called “Evening Hours.”
Cunningham must be history’s most frugal fashion observer. He sleeps on a camp bed in his studio surrounded by filing cabinets. The bathroom is down the hall and shared with other tenants. He never eats out and owns perhaps four outfits at most – his uniform is a blue workman’s smock (with lots of pockets) which he buys from a DIY store in Paris. The street-sweepers there wear the same shirt. In the rain, he cycles in a plastic poncho full of holes repaired with gaffer tape. He is on his 28th bicycle, having had 27 stolen in New York over the years.
Of his reluctance to accept even a glass of water at any of the events he covers, he tells the cameras: “You see, if you don’t take money they can’t tell you what to do, that’s the key to the whole thing.”
In 2008, Cunningham was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres , by the French Ministry of Culture. In his speech, he was overcome with emotion. He told the assembled: “It’s as true today as it ever was. He who seeks beauty, will find it”.