Snap shots: ‘Bill Cunningham New York’ turns the camera on fashion’s most influential paparazzo

LENS ME A SHOE | The Times photographer documents foot fashion in ‘Bill Cunningham New York.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Maybe Project Runway’s to blame, maybe The Devil Wears Prada, but for the past few years there has been a surplus of documentaries about the fashion industry, with profiles of designers like Valentino (Valentino: The Last Emperor), Yves Saint-Laurent (several in fact), even young designers (Seamless) and Vogue magazine’s editor (The September Issue). (By contrast, I can only recall one fashion doc from the 1990s: Unzipped, about a young designer named Isaac Mizrahi.) Is there really that much to say about dressmaking?

Maybe not, but while Bill Cunningham New York fits broadly within the category of fashion documentaries, its subject is unusual because he eschews the trappings of haute couture even as he’s inextricably a part of it — a huge part, really.

If you don’t read the New York Times, you might not recognize Cunningham’s name, and even if you do read it, it may not have registered with you. For about, well, maybe 1,000 years, Cunningham has chronicled New York society with his candid photos of the glitterati on the Evening Hours page. At the same time, however, he has documented real fashion — how New Yorkers dress in their daily lives — with his page On the Street, where he teases out trends (from hats to men in skirts to hip-hoppers allowing their jeans to dangle around their knees). Anna Wintour may tell us what we should wear; Cunningham shows us what we do.

“We all get dressed for Bill,” Wintour observes.

What makes Cunningham such an interesting character is how impervious he seems to the responsibility he effortlessly wields. He loves fashion, yes, but he’s not a slave to it himself. He scurries around Manhattan (even in his 80s) on his bicycle (he’s had dozens; they are frequently stolen), sometimes in a nondescript tux but mostly in jeans, a ratty blue smock and duck shoes, looking more like a homeless shoeshiner than the arbiter of great fashion. He flits through the city like a pixie with his 35mm camera (film-loaded, not digital), a vacant, toothy smile peaking out behind the lens, snapping the denizens of Babylon whether they want it or not.

One of the funniest moments is when strangers shoo him away as some lunatic paparazzo, unaware how all the well-heeled doyens on the Upper East would trade a nut to have Cunningham photograph them for inclusion in the Times. Patrick McDonald, the weirdly superficial modern dandy (he competed as a wannabe designer on the flop reality series Launch My Line a few seasons back), seems to exist with the hope that Cunningham will shoot him. And shoot him he does.

Many artists are idiosyncratic, even eccentric, but Cunningham is supremely odd by any standards. He lives in a tiny studio near Carnegie Hall filled with filing cabinets cluttered with decades of film negatives on the same floor as a crazy old woman, a kind of urban variation on Grey Gardens. He knows tons of people but most of them seem to know very little about him. By the time near the end when the filmmaker, director Richard Press, finally comes out and ask him outright whether he’s gay, Cunningham arches in that prickly New England way, never really answering outright, though he says he’s never — never — had a romantic relationship. Things like that were simply not discussed by men of his generation.

In some ways, we never really know any more about Cunningham at the end than any of his friends do, and perhaps even him. Cunningham comes across as defiantly non-self-reflective. He lets his work do all the talking for him. And that work has a lot to say on its own.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

Local Briefs

CCGLA surveys candidates, sets meet-and-greet events

As municipal elections approach, the Collin County Gay & Lesbian Alliance has sent an online survey to city council, school board and mayoral candidates in Allen, Frisco, Plano and McKinney, and “meet-and-greet” sessions for candidates are planned in Frisco, Plano and McKinney in April.

The organization will also create and distribute a voters’ guide.

The Plano “meet-and-greet” will be held on Friday, April 8, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at a private residence. For more information, go online to CCGLA.org.

Results of CCGLA’s candidate surveys will be posted on the CCGLA website prior to each event. The events are informal, non-partisan, and all candidates are invited.

Oak Cliff Earth Day to feature vendors, info booths and more

Oak Cliff Earth Day, which has become the largest all-volunteer-run Earth Day since it started five years ago, will be held on Sunday, April 17, from noon to 5 p.m. at Lake Cliff Park, located at the intersection of Colorado Street and Zang Boulevard in Oak Cliff.

There is no charge to attend the event, which will include art, food, plants and other environmentally-friendly products available for purchase.

There will also be educational booths on topics such as how to save energy and clean up the environment, along with locally-grown honey, animals to adopt and native plants for gardens.

Parking at the park is limited, however, free parking is available at Methodist Hospital, in Lot 10 only, located at 1400 S. Beckley Ave. across from the hospital entrance on Beckley Ave. Methodist Hospital is providing a shuttle bus from the parking lot to the event.

Participants are also encouraged to take DART to the event or walk or ride a bicycle. There are a number of bike racks, funded by Oak Cliff Earth Day, at the park.

Mayoral candidates to speak Sunday on animal issues in Dallas

Dallas’ mayoral candidates will participate in a forum on animal issues in the city of Dallas on Sunday, April 10, at 2 p.m. at the Central Dallas Library, 1515 Young St., in downtown Dallas. The Metroplex Animal Coalition is sponsoring the forum, with is free and open to the public. Journalist Larry Powell with Urban Animal magazine will moderate.

The mayoral candidates are former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle, Councilman Ron Natinsky, real estate consultant Edward Okpa and Mike Rawlings, former Pizza Hut CEO and Dallas homeless czar.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

Veterans Across Ohio Push Senator Voinovich to Stand Up for Repeal

Yesterday, HRC held simultaneous public forums with veterans affected by the harmful “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy in Cleveland and Columbus.  The events, covered by local media, were held at the Cleveland City Hall where Senator George Voinovich cut his political teeth decades ago as Cleveland Mayor, and the Ohio Statehouse where he served as Governor.  Repeal advocates wanted to respectfully remind the Senator that he has bucked the more conservative elements of his party when it was the right thing to do – as it is the right thing to do with repealing this discriminatory law.

In Cleveland, Major General Dennis Laich and Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman were joined by four Ohio veterans who stood up to tell their stories and make their voices heard.  Brian Tupaz, Robert Tackett, Marie Bohousch and Mark Szabo each took to the stage to share publicly their personal experience with DADT.  Their stories serve as a painful reminder of how this law has failed our service members and our country.

Two and a half hours south by southwest, at the Ohio Statehouse, Claudia Mason and David Goetz echoed those in Cleveland and called on Senator Voinovich to publicly declare his support for DADT repeal. They reminded him that he has stood on the side of equality before, voting in favor of the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hates Crimes Prevention Act last year, and should honor the 14,000 service members who have been discharged under this discriminatory law by voting to end this law.

Claudia, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel from Dayton, is a straight ally and is outspoken about the importance of repealing this law. She called on Senator Voinovich to join his fellow Buckeye, Senator Sherrod Brown and listen to the recommendation from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary Gates in supporting repeal this year.

Also this week, members of the Columbus steering committee joined Collin and me at the Ohio Democratic Party offices to call repeal supporters and urge them to call on Senator Voinovich to support repeal this year. If you’re a Buckeye, make your voice heard by calling Senator Voinovich at 202.224.3353.

We’ll be putting the pressure on Senator Voinovich and urging him to join the ranks of supportive Republicans like Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year. Now is the last opportunity for Voinovich to stand on the side of equality. With a vote in the Senate on repeal of DADT expected as early as Saturday morning, Senator Voinovich needs to hear from you NOW!


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  admin

HRC Volunteers in D.C. Keep Dialing In for Equality Across the Nation

In this last week before the critical Midterm Elections, we’ve been contacting HRC members  all over the country from here in D.C.  It’s exciting because I know just how much of an impact every conversation makes.

On Monday night I headed over to George Washington University and lead a phonebank withthe  student group Allied for Pride and dialed in for marriage equality in New York State.  Across town, Deputy Field Director Jeremy Pittman led another group of D.C. volunteers and HRC supporters as they also dialed to elect pro-equality state Senate candidates in New York.

We continued making calls into New York on Tuesday night with a great new group at George Mason University, StandOUT.

I’m so happy to support these key campaigns which will get us that much closer to passing marriage equality. I’m invested and passionate about all of our campaigns across the nation, but this one is particularly close to my heart. I grew up “upstate”- depending on your definition of upstate- in Hudson, NY.  I also recently got engaged to my partner, Renee. If I ever wanted to return home to New York to get married, I wouldn’t be able to do so legally. Unfortunately, situations like mine are not isolated. This is a sobering fact, and I want to do as much as I can to change the tide and see that all families in New York are recognized.

On Wednesday night I was joined by eight D.C. area volunteers and we continued to mobilize our members, this time in Minnesota, which is poised to be another marriage-equality state. At the same time, former HRC intern Josh Langdon ran a simultaneous phone bank with University of Ohio law students that reached out to hundreds of voters to support pro-equality candidates there.

In the last three days, we’ve held 5 phonebanks in three different locations and dialed over 2,000 numbers. It sounds like a lot, but we still have so much work to do.

Just two and half hours of your time will help us reach out to more than one hundred members and in races this close and this important, that could make all the difference.

Please email me directly at Christine.Sloane@hrc.org to sign up for our last election phonebank, on Monday, November 1. That night, we’ll be making calls into key districts all over the country to mobilize our members and get out the vote for pro-equality candidates.

We will provide pizza, training and a fun atmosphere on the eve before the elections. We’ll also be starting early, at 5:00 p.m., and calling right up until 9:00 p.m.  Stop in after work, on your way to the metro, and give what time you can; just let me know that you’re coming!

It’s simple- we need all hands on deck.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  admin

HRC Voluteers Organize Across Pennsylvania

The following is from HRC Regional Field Director Sultan Shakir:

As November approaches, I have been working alongside groups like Equality Pennsylvania, Stonewall Democrats, Liberty City Democratic Club and our members throughout the Keystone state organizing Pennsylvanians to get involved during the upcoming midterm elections. Up and down the Turnpike, I have met with outstanding volunteers who want to make a difference this November. 

From Pittsburg to Allentown, Harrisburg to Philadelphia, We’ve been reaching out to our members in Pennsylvania to make a difference. I recently spent an evening dialing in with some outstanding volunteers in Philadelphia; we had an amazing evening calling members across the state and had a blast while doing it.

I want to thank all of our volunteers who have come out so far to make a difference in their state. I look forward to working with them and the many others who will join us as the pace picks up prior to elections.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

Join Us in DC to Promote Equality Across the Country

With Election Day just 34 days away, HRC is calling on YOU to come volunteer with us in D.C. to help elect fair-minded candidates all over the country.

Join us tonight or any Monday or Wednesday from now until the big day on November 2nd to Dial for Equality. This election year is a big deal for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, and with your help we can work to ensure victory for these fair-minded candidates and prevent anti-equality leaders from turning back the clock on progress.

We have been dialing in all season, and we have had some outstanding volunteers. They have had a blast joining us each week and with their help we have made a big impact on voters across the country. Now, we’re calling on you to keep up the momentum from now until Election day.

Whether you’ve joined us in the past or this is your first time, we’ll make sure you have all the training you need. And don’t worry, dinner is always on us! All we need from you is to come join us to talk our members to let them know just how important the upcoming elections are for LGBT Americans.

Dial for Equality
Mondays and Wednesdays
6 PM
HRC headquarters
1640 Rhode Island Ave, NW
Washington, DC  20036

Sign up and join a fun an energetic team of volunteers to help make a difference in our country. You’ll make a big impact and have a lot of fun at the same time. Feel free to invite your friends and family too; every bit helps and we are sure that they will have a great time too.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

Ya Es Hora ¡Ciudadania! Events Across the Nation a Big Success

The following post comes from HRC Diversity Coordinator Hyacinth Alvaran:

Under the ya es hora iCiudadania! civic engagement banner, Human Rights Campaign steering committees and volunteers in Las Vegas, San Antonio, Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Washington, D.C., partnered with local and national organizations throughout the month of July (July 10th – 24th) to hold workshops providing assistance to the immigrant community in their applications for U.S. citizenship. We thank our leaders and volunteers in these communities for continuing to build bridges with the immigrant community, and enthusiastically commend our diversity co-chairs and other steering committee leaders for their impeccable leadership in this important endeavor. According to the Department of Homeland Security, an estimated 8.2 million legal permanent residents are eligible to become U.S. citizens. Of this total, an estimated 3.8 million, or almost half (46%), are Latino/a.

We are also proud to add Las Vegas, San Antonio and Dallas to the family of steering committees involved in the ya es hora ¡Ciudadania! coalition. Since July 2009 and through the active leadership of its steering committees, HRC has grown its participation in ya es hora to 17 cities. Below are statements from Gayl Newton, our HRC San Antonio steering committee diversity co-chair, and John Leonard, one of our HRC Dallas / Ft. Worth steering committee diversity co-chairs, about their experiences in their local citizenship workshops on July 10th and 17th, respectively, and a picture from the citizenship workshop in New York, courtesy of one of our HRC Greater New York diversity co-chairs, Marilyn Abalos:

“We had eight volunteers. Most of them were first time volunteers. It was a very positive experience for all of us. The Permanent Resident applicants were mostly prepared and eligible to proceed with the processing…” – Gayl Newton

“HRC Dallas / Ft. Worth partnered with fellow ya es hora coalition member Proyecto Inmigrante from Ft. Worth in a citizenship workshop on Saturday, July 17, 2010, in Arlington, TX.  While volunteer turnout was not as high as expected, our presence certainly helped with completion of 95 citizenship forms for Legal Permanent Residents looking to become naturalized citizens of the United States of America.  It was a productive and illuminating day for our volunteers, including myself, Rachel Stonecipher, and Brian Browning.  It is important to the continued work of HRC to be part of these broad coalitions, and we were excited to be part of this event.” – John Leonard

Finally, we heartily congratulate the Las Vegas steering committee for spearheading the coalition-building and planning behind the Las Vegas citizenship workshop, which took months of intentional relationship-building and planning, and the Phoenix steering committee for holding strong in their commitment to and participation in their local citizenship workshops and continued partnerships with immigrant communities despite local tensions caused by SB1070. The Las Vegas workshop attracted over 100 participants with 52 of them completing the whole application process, and the Phoenix workshop attracted approximately 700 participants. The Las Vegas workshop is also one of the largest coalitions in the ya es hora iCiudadania! campaign, representing 18 organizations. Previous Back Story posts about the Las Vegas citizenship workshop can be found here, and on the Phoenix citizenship workshop here.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright