Legendary New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham died Saturday, according to the paper where he worked for nearly 40 years. He was 87.
Cunningham, whose watchful eye brought images of New Yorkers — from the well-heeled to unsuspecting trendsetters — to the public, had been hospitalized recently after a stroke, the Times reported.
Credited with creating the genre of street fashion photography, Cunningham held a passion for capturing a subject or trend’s look, whatever it may be.
He was, as the Times called him, an “unlikely cultural anthropologist.”
Cunningham, who plied New York in his trademark blue workman’s jacket with a camera slung around his neck and traveled on his bicycle, had an uncanny talent in unearthing major, even avant-garde trends on the street, on the catwalk or at glittering parties.
In a 2010 documentary about Cunningham, Anna Wintour — the powerful editor of American Vogue and one of the photographer’s muses — marveled at his ability to “see something, on the street or on the runway, that completely missed all of us. And in six months’ time, that will be a trend!”
Frank Rich, a former New York Times columnist and executive producer of the HBO series “Veep,” tweeted: “Bill Cunningham was as delightful and fascinating a person and colleague as he was as artist. An independent mind, big heart, no airs.”
A ‘Living Landmark’
A 2008 recipient of France’s Legion of Honor, Cunningham was also named a living landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2009.
“Today we lost a Living Landmark, not that he ever stood still. Let’s all be more fabulous in Bill’s memory,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office wrote on Twitter.
De Blasio added: “We will remember Bill’s blue jacket and bicycle. But most of all we will remember the vivid, vivacious New York he captured in his photos.”
Cunningham’s “wealth of knowledge is absolutely staggering and he is self-effacing,” one of the founding editors of InStyle magazine, Hal Rubenstein, told AFP in 2014.
Times publisher and chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr added: “His company was sought after by the fashion world’s rich and powerful, yet he remained one of the kindest, most gentle and humble people I have ever met.”
Cunningham, born in Boston in 1929, “used his camera like a note pad, keeping careful tabs on every genus, phylum and species of stylish bird,” The Hollywood Reporter wrote.
Former CNN correspondent Alina Cho, an editor at large at Ballantine Bantam Dell who was often photographed by Cunningham, first met the photographer “many, many years ago” on a cold February day during New York Fashion Week.
“I didn’t yet know him and he certainly didn’t know me, but he did notice that I was inappropriately dressed for the blizzard-like conditions,” Cho told The Hollywood Reporter.
“And, so, he just quietly walked over and put his big blue parka over my shoulders and said something to the effect of, ‘Child, wear this — you’re cold.’ I’ll never forget it,” Cho said.