World Mourns Bill Cunningham, Legendary Photographer and NY Institution

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"New York Times" photographer Bill Cunningham takes photos as a model presents a creation from the Lacoste Spring/Summer 2015 collection during New York Fashion Week on September 6, 2014. Reuters

The art world and beyond is mourning the death of Bill Cunningham, the celebrated photographer who chronicled fashion and street culture for the New York Times for nearly 40 years. 

Cunningham died on Saturday in Manhattan at 87 after having recently suffered a stroke, the Times reports. 

Often seen riding his bicycle through Manhattan, Cunningham eschewed the plaudits that came his way from decades of documenting the changing culture and the glamour that attends the fashion world in favor of simple pleasures and the pursuit of photo subjects, whether walking down Fifth Avenue or attending a gala. 

The Times describes his singular personality:

"He didn’t go to the movies. He didn’t own a television. He ate breakfast nearly every day at the Stage Star Deli on West 55th Street, where a cup of coffee and a sausage, egg and cheese could be had, until very recently, for under $3. He lived until 2010 in a studio above Carnegie Hall amid rows and rows of file cabinets, where he kept all of his negatives. He slept on a single-size cot (and) showered in a shared bathroom."

 

Cunningham's colleagues say the "world has lost a legend," and publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. is "personally heartbroken to have lost a friend.”

 

Dean Baquet, the Times’s executive editor, described Cunningham as "incredibly open-minded about fashion. To see a Bill Cunningham street spread was to see all of New York. Young people. Brown people. People who spent fortunes on fashion and people who just had a strut and knew how to put an outfit together out of what they had and what they found.”

In an essay Cunningham wrote for the Times in 2002, he said street culture was vital in fashion photography. "I realized that you didn’t know anything unless you photographed the shows and the street, to see how people interpreted what designers hoped they would buy. I realized that the street was the missing ingredient," he said. 

"The main thing I love about street photography is that you find the answers you don’t see at the fashion shows. You find information for readers so they can visualize themselves. This was something I realized early on: If you just cover the designers in the shows, that’s only one facet. You also need the street and the evening hours. If you cover the three things, you have the full picture of what people are wearing."

He also described how he views photography's role in the wider culture. "I think fashion is as vital and as interesting today as ever. I know what people with a more formal attitude mean when they say they’re horrified by what they see on the street. But fashion is doing its job. It’s mirroring exactly our times."