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In Memory of Bill Cunningham, 1929-2016

Kim Hastreiter of Paper magazine remembers pioneering street style photographer Bill Cunningham, who contributed to the New York Times for almost 40 years.
Bill Cunningham | Source: Shutterstock
By
  • Kim Hastreiter

Bill Cunningham loved fashion but he loved style even more. A true cultural anthropologist, he knew that fashion didn't come from designer catwalks or from the pages of magazines, but was instead born from culture. And to him, the best place to find culture was on the street, so that's where he went to work every day.

Bill worked the streets as a war photographer would the battlefield, plowing people down as he raced to get the shot he wanted, whether snapping a 70-year-old crossing the street in an extreme look, a Goth kid hobbling in six-inch platform sneakers outside a club, women wearing extraordinary hats coming out of a Harlem church on Sunday, or waspy blondes in Lily Pulitzer at a benefit in Newport.

Never subscribing to the industry’s rampant elitism or snobbery, he photographed people with style democratically, whether old, young, rich, poor, black, white, gay and straight. Bill made the fashion world better. That’s why he was so beloved and why he will be so missed. He was a fierce and ethical artist who was a seminal independent, believing that accepting money or selling out to a “job” would compromise his freedom of expression.

His work was pure ‘til the end. He insisted on 100 percent control, owning all his pictures and working ‘til the end of his life on his legendary weekly Sunday New York Times pages, which he shot, edited, wrote and laid out himself — proof that when this kind of rare freedom is given to a great visionary, everybody wins.

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