Although his modest demeanor might have suggested otherwise, New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham – seen frequently around the city, wearing a blue French worker’s jacket with a camera slung around his neck – was quite the local celebrity. Earlier this year, he passed away in New York City at the age of 87, after having had suffered from a stroke. He leaves behind a legendary legacy, which is being honored today in a tribute taking place at Bryant Park.
In his memory, 50 of Bryant Park’s bistro chairs were arranged in a formation representing his 35mm camera. The tribute happens to coincide with the first day of NYC Fashion Week. As a nod to his ever-present blue work jacket, the tops of each chair were covered in blue fabric and tagged with a photo of him to commemorate his relationship to Bryant Park, the previous location of New York Fashion Week, and a locale often featured on his “On the Street” blog
The rather abstract arrangement was set up next to Lowell Fountain, a major focal point in the park. Every so often, passing pedestrians would take a moment to look at his photo, which was laminated and pinned to the tarp of the chair with a safety pin. Behind the photo, a short dedication read the following:
1929 – 2016
Avid observer of style and society, and a great friend of Bryant Park.
The description is fitting for Cunningham, who from a young age, took a lot of interest in fashion. In 1967, after receiving his first camera from illustrator Antonio Lopez, he began photographing New Yorkers and documenting their personal style. He didn’t just focus on what they wore, but also how they wore a particular item of clothing; he often honed in on small details like the way someone carried an umbrella or held a coat closed.
In his nearly 40 years working for The New York Times, fashion photography has evolved into his ”own branch of cultural anthropology.” He subjects varied from philanthropists like Annette de la Renta and Mercedes Bass to “B-boys in low-slung jeans.” Yet, he often shied away from the limelight, choosing instead to quietly observe from the sidelines. For his contributions to the city over the years, the New York Landmarks Conservancy named him a living landmark in 2009. He was also the subject of a 2010 documentary titled Bill Cunningham New York.