This is my entry for “B” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “B” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Babies, Ballerina, Barbosa: The Man Who Made Brazil Cry, Being Elmo, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, and Boredom.
Title: Bill Cunningham New York
Release Date: March 16, 2011
Director: Richard Press
Production Company: First Thought Films
The movie starts with a man photographing passing pedestrians on a street corner in Midtown Manhattan. It’s a bit creepy, and not too far into the movie a pair of women yell at him to stop. We learn the man is a fashion photographer for the New York Times who publishes collages of street fashion as well from fundraising soirees and models strutting down the catwalk. But as we get to know the humble man behind the camera, all the preconceived notions of fashion photographer.
Cunningham is not at all fashionable himself, consistently wearing the same blue jacket as he bikes around Manhattan with his camera. He lives modestly in a studio apartment within Carnegie Hall filled with filing cabinets of his photographs (part of the movie documents Carnegie Hall management evicting Cunningham and other aging artists to make more room for revenue-producing office space). He never accepts payment or even food and drink at the events he covers. He does try to photograph celebrities, but focuses on photographing fashionable clothing that captures his eye. And he never mocks the everyday people he photographs, instead celebrating their fashion sense. Indeed he’s something of an anthropologist documenting fashion trends that emerge from the populist.
Every Blogging A to Z Challenge I’ve done on documentary movies has included one on a street photographer – previously Finding Vivian Maier and Zimbelism – and they’re all complex and a bit odd people. I’m not terribly interested in fashion photography but do feel I learned to appreciate something about it through Bill Cunningham’s unique life story.