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Matinee: Bill Cunningham's Words of Wisdom Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

23 January 2016

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 119th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Bill Cunningham's Words of Wisdom.

The trick, Bill Cunningham reveals in this eight-and-a-half-minute clip, is to be invisible. Lucky for us, we can still hear this invisible photographer as he dispenses a little wisdom from his many decades shooting the fashion he finds in the streets of New York and Paris.

Cunningham shoots for the New York Times these days, where he has his own video channel to display what he's found. Free Spirits, Winter Flair, Lush Colors are among the more recent titles. In just a couple of minutes he shows you what's going on.

He's not interested in the celebrities 'in their free dresses.' He's interested in clothes.

As he makes clear in this clip, he's a reporter not a paparazzo. He's not interested in photographing celebrities "in their free dresses." He's interested in clothes. He jumps on his bike and chases them around the city, sometimes even shooting from his bike seat. A nice trick for someone in his eighties.

He doesn't discuss his equipment but rumor has it he uses a Nikon FM2 with ISO 400 Fujifilm color negative film and a basic Nikon dSLR, both with a 35mm prime lens. On the dSLR, though, that 35mm crops more like a 50mm, so we have to wonder about the rumor. Some people have seen him with a Hasselblad and others insist he uses a 50mm lens. Whatever he uses, he keeps it pretty simple, manually focusing.

Simplicity is fundamental to his style, certainly. He lives in a small apartment with no private bathroom or kitchen where his bed is a piece of foam sitting on a board propped up on milk crates. The blue jacket he wears everywhere is a French workman's smock.

You can find out a little more about Cunningham in Lauren Collins' 2009 profile published in The New Yorker. And in 2010 the documentary Bill Cunningham New York was released.

As for those words of wisdom, well, we'll let Cunningham dispense them.

We'll just say they involve how to do the job, the price of freedom, what fashion really is, why Paris matters, what interests him, poetry in fabric, playing it straight and seeking beauty.

OK, we'll spill the last one. "He who seeks beauty," Cunningham says, "will find it." Beautiful, no?

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