Saturday, June 25, 2016

RIP Bill Cunningham

What do you want to be when you grow up? That’s a fair question, no matter how old you are. Regardless of your age, you can always aspire to be, or work towards something more. You can also grow up, without growing old. In photography, I was lucky to have met some of those older photographers that pushed me to do and create more. Others, I followed, without ever having the chance to meet them. As I began to take over the event photography for the Charlotte Observer in recent years, one name was always at the top of my list. Bill Cunningham. 

Bill was the fashion and event photographer for the New York Times for the last forty years. He canvased New York City on his bicycle, sometimes shooting up to ten events a day. If you saw the 2010 documentary on him, you know that he was a lifer. He was one of the last of a generation that saw photography as his calling, and lived and slept it every waking moment of his life. He was an individualist, he was forthright with his opinions. The work mattered to him, more than any of the niceties and trappings that can come with the work that he was doing. And he loved what he was doing.

In an era where many in his field could not come to grips to with social media, Bill embraced it. For the last several years, Bill narrated a weekly video for the Times’ website where he talked about what he had been photographing that week. He enthusiasm, even in his mid-80s, was infectious. Pardon my English here, but one of my most common pieces of advice to others about creating anything is to give a s—t. Care about your work, and be proud of it. Push yourself to do better, while allowing yourself to have fun in the journey to do so. Bill Cunningham truly gave a s—t. To hear his Massachusetts by way of New York accent talking excitedly about new ideas that he’d just seen was inspiring, and often made me re-think my own approaches to event photography, and life in general. And he always will.

Bill left this physical place today for the great gig in the sky, going out while still on the job. Just like Richard Avedon, Ernest Withers, and the others whose work inspired me to think about the possibilities of the images and ideas that could be glimpsed through the camera. With his passing, an end to an era of event photography also leaves us. Events will continue to covered by the Times, for sure, but through the ever-eager eyes of Bill Cunningham, a certain world was captured forever. In his wake, all we can do is learn, adapt and grow, in the hope that someday, someone will look at our work in the very same way.

Here’s to growth. Here’s to ideas. Here’s to giving a s—t. Here’s to you, Bill. Thank you, and safe travels.
June 25, 2016

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