Birds of a feather flock together.
Begin to day!
You’ll find it nice,
The quickest way to paradise.
When you practise,
Here’s the thing to know,
Simply say as you go…
I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise
— George Gerwin
No, he didn’t have to build a stairway to his paradise, it was already there.
New York City: Filled With All of Its Birds of Paradise
All he has to do is go to the streets, and with his bicycle and camera…
He is in his Paradise.
William J. Cunningham, Composer Artisan, (born March 13, 1929) is a fashion photographer for The New York Times, known for his candid and street photography.
Cunningham dropped out of Harvard University in 1948 and moved to New York City, where he initially worked in advertising. Not long after, he quit his job and struck out on his own, making hats under the name “William J.” This business folded when he was drafted. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he returned to New York and started writing for the Chicago Tribune.
During his years as a writer he contributed significantly to fashion journalism, introducing American audiences to Azzedine Alaïa and Jean-Paul Gaultier. While working at the Tribune and at Women’s Wear Daily he began taking photographs of fashion on the streets of New York. After taking a chance photograph of Greta Garbo, he published a group of impromptu pictures in the Times in December 1978, which soon became a regular series. His editor, Arthur Gelb, has called these photographs “a turning point for the Times, because it was the first time the paper had run pictures of well-known people without getting their permission.” [Wikipedia, revised]
“Don’t send me a guest list … Royal highnesses and blah blah blah, I am not interested. … They think it’s a society column. It isn’t.” — Bill Cunningham.
“New York City is all about status. It’s not pleasant city to live in, aside from there are a lot of ambitious people. People very pushy socially. But, I don’t think Bill gets a lift with being with these people. ” — Tom Wolfe.
“I eat with my eyes.”
Bill is a true egalitarian. Not that he isn’t unaware of the social hierarchy, but he treats bicycle messenger the same as a socialite the same as an up and coming novelle society person as the same as old Dutch monied families. He just doesn’t care, he treats them all the same.
Cunningham photographs people and the passing scene in the streets of Manhattan every day. Most of his pictures, he has said, are never published. Designer Oscar de la Renta has said, “More than anyone else in the city, he has the whole visual history of the last 40 or 50 years of New York. It’s the total scope of fashion in the life of New York.” He has made a career taking unexpected photographs of celebrities, socialites, and fashion personalities, many of whom value his company. According to David Rockefeller, Brooke Astor asked that Cunningham attend her 100th birthday party, the only member of the media invited.
In 2008 he was awarded the Officier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.
In 2010, filmmaker Richard Press and Philip Gefter of The Times produced Bill Cunningham New York, a documentary about Cunningham. The film was released on March 16, 2011. It shows Cunningham traveling through Manhattan by bicycle and living in a tiny apartment in the Carnegie Hall building. The apartment has no closet, kitchen, or private bathroom, and is filled with filing cabinets and boxes of his photographs. The documentary also details his philosophy on fashion, art, and photography, as well as observes his interactions with his subjects while taking photos. [Wikipedia, revised]
More than the other Artisans, Composers are in tune with their senses, and so have a sure grasp of what belongs, and what doesn’t belong, in all kinds of works of art. While the other Artisans are skilled with people, tools, and entertainment, Composers have an exceptional ability –seemingly inborn– to work with subtle differences in color, tone, texture, aroma, and flavor.
Although Composers often put long, lonely hours into their artistry, they are just as impulsive as the other Artisans. They do not wait to consider their moves; rather, they act in the here and now, with little or no planning or preparation. Composers are seized by the act of artistic composition, as if caught up in a whirlwind. The act is their master, not the reverse. Composers paint or sculpt, they dance or skate, they write melodies or make recipes-or whatever-simply because they must. They climb the mountain because it is there. [Please Understand Me II]
“He’s such a Maverick. He is a real artist. Let’s talk…”