Lonely Planet Writer

Legendary fashion photojournalist Bill Cunningham celebrated in his beloved New York

Fashion and New York City enthusiasts rejoice: a new exhibition by the New York Historical Society will display the unseen personal items of esteemed late fashion photojournalist Bill Cunningham, who “paved the way” for documenting street fashion, according to curator Debra Schmidt Bach.

Bill Cunningham, (part of the Friends Series), December 2014 Image by Savinien Caracostea

This June, visitors can view the last bicycle that influential trend-spotter and style authority Cunningham rode around his beloved New York City, snapping fashionistas and delivering social commentary through his work. People can also spy his signature French worker’s jacket. “He started to wear it in part because it had lots of pockets,” revealed Bach ahead of the show. Cunningham’s first professional camera, given to him in 1967, will also be on display, as will many photos he captured throughout the years.

Bill’s famous signature blue jacket. Image by New-York Historical Society

Cunningham, who passed away in 2016, was a milliner before he became a fashion photojournalist. The New York Historical Society has located some of his designs, plus a sign from one of his hat shops from the early 1960s. “People will get a glimpse of his artistry in his photography and his unique, beautifully made hats,” said Bach.

Bill Cunningham photographing models, sometimes between 1968−76 Image by photographer unknown

Cunningham’s items will be grouped chronologically, guiding those who visit through different phases of his career and life in New York, beginning with his time as a milliner, then his journalism work, and the work he did with The New York Times. The last section looks at some of the other things he was interested in, and the types of project that he took on.

Bill Cunningham with his camera, October 1974. Image by New-York Historical Society Library

“He was the first to do that ‘man on the street’ style of photography,” explained Bach, “Now it’s something that we take for granted, to see candid shots of people on the street… there is Instagram and so many things like it – but this is essentially what Bill was doing, beginning in the ‘60s.”

The bicycle used by Bill to travel around NYC. Image by New-York Historical Society

Fascinated as much with what people were wearing on the street and the runways as he was with New York City itself, Cunningham’s boundless energy and devotion to his city is what made him so special and important, claims Bach, “Bill was a consummate New Yorker, who really captured the pulse of the city in the years that he was active here, it’s a great way to see another viewpoint on New York life. It will be a fascinating exhibition.”

Bill on his trusted bike on the streets of NYC. Image by Getty

New-York Historical Society’s Celebrating Bill Cunningham exhibition runs from 8 June to 9 September, find out more at www.nyhistory.org