Best of the Big Ap­ple

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

THERE’S NO hyphen in the ti­tle: nor should there be.

It’s morn­ing and, as ever, oc­to­ge­nar­ian snap­per Bill Cun­ning­ham gets on his Sch­winn bi­cy­cle and leaves his Carnegie Hall apart­ment to take can­did pic­tures of bustling New York­ers. “The best fash­ion is al­ways on the street,” says the pho­tog­ra­pher in plum New Eng­land-speak. “Al­ways has been; al­ways will be.”

Cun­ning­ham’s photo es­says, a rolling pic­to­rial chron­i­cle of van­guard street fash­ion and best­for­got­ten plaid, have en­livened the New York Times since the 1970s. The pa­per, which also runs his high so­ci­ety snaps, co-pro­duced this warm por­trait of an imp­ish, ec­cen­tric ur­ban an­thro­pol­o­gist – and no won­der: Cun­ning­ham’s On the Street se­ries is one of the big guns in the Time­sar­moury.

Di­rec­tor Richard Press worked for 10 years on Bill Cun­ning­ham New York; eight of them were spent per­suad­ing his shy sub­ject to get on­board. We learn that he fought in the war and, as a milliner in the 1950s, he made hats for Gin­ger Rogers and Marilyn Mon­roe (nei­ther of who, in his opin­ion, had “style”). He in­sists that he’s not a real pho­tog­ra­pher, just a guy who “seeks beauty” on the side­walks.

Dressed in a tweed cap and util­i­tar­ian royal blue shirt, Bill is an un­likely am­bas­sador for style: “Damn you, New York­ers, you’re all so ex­trav­a­gant and waste­ful”, he grins as he re-tapes the holes in his rain pon­cho.

But Cun­ning­ham does more than catch the pe­cu­liar­i­ties and ex­cesses of the rag trade. When Vogue ed­i­tor Anna Win­tour says that “we all get dressed for Bill,” she re­ally means “all”. His work co­a­lesces into an im­pos­si­bly ro­man­tic por­trait of New York and New York­ers, beat­ing on against the cur­rent in im­pos­si­ble heels.

Di­rected by Richard Press The snap­per: Bill Cun­ning­ham works the streets

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