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

Here’s what Chick-Fil-A defenders don’t understand: The more they shoot the messenger, the more we’re going to dig up new messages!

First some background:

The WinShape Retreat Center on Berry College’s mountain campus is just the kind of development to advance Martha Berry’s vision, said Don “Bubba” Cathy, senior vice president of Chick-fil-A, at the retreat center’s grand opening on Wednesday.

Chick-fil-A has spent about million to renovate Berry’s old Normandy buildings — the long-time home of the school’s dairy — during the past year. The company now will run the WinShape Retreat Center, primarily as a marriage seminar and ministry center.

“We felt like God has given us a vision for this,” said Cathy, who led Chick-fil-A’s effort to find a use for the 70-year-old buildings.

WinShape Retreat Center to help mend marriage [Rome News-Tribune]

This is the same retreat center that hosts an annual Marriage Comission seminar, featuring invited guests like Maggie Gallagher, Jennifer Roback Morse, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly, and many more who fight in the public square against equality for gay people. A seminar where Chick-Fil-A higher ups both speak and receive personal shout outs (see videos of that here). At a retreat that was born out of Chick-Fil-A profits: Profits you contribute to anytime you eat at one of the chain’s many locations.

So why are we bringing up more Chick-Fil-A stuff here and now? Well, we honestly didn’t want to. But to be perfectly honest: We’re pretty tired of the disingenuous way the company and its defenders keep acting like we were wacky and out-of-line for simply letting people know about the company’s ties to anti-gay advocacy. And we’re also getting annoyed with the way they keep making it all about the one Pennsylvania Family Institute sponsorship, when we’ve brought out soooooooooo much more than just that (and have clearly shown why that particular sponsorship does have demonstrable anti-gay advocacy attached via both its local and national parent).

Here are just two recent examples of defenders denying anti-gay attachment and generally sidestepping the actual message we brought forth:

“A local Pennsylvania Chick-fil-A decided to donate some box-lunches to a seminar called ‘The Art of Marriage: Getting to the Heart of God’s Design,’” reports Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins. “Since then, the fast-food chain has come under attack from liberals, who say these sandwiches are somehow a political statement against homosexuality.”

But Perkins points out that seminar sponsor Michael Geer sees nothing wrong with the donations and has issued a statement encouraging people to “applaud institutions that want to strengthen marriage.”

Anti-homosexual chicken sandwiches? [ONN]

Just last week, homosexual bloggers squawked that the Pennsylvania Family Institute was sponsoring what they called an “anti-gay,” “anti-equality” conference; and worse yet, that a prominent food chain, Chick-fil-A, was a co-sponsor. Of course, the conference was no such thing. The conference’s title is “The Art of Marriage, Getting to God’s Design.”

I happen to know the founder of Chick-fil-A—Truett Cathy—a wonderful, outstanding Christian businessman. Why should they be bashed for supporting a good thing—promoting healthy marriages?

Free to Speak [Chuck Colson's Breakpoint Commentary]

Issue-shirking asides that are especially annoying considering new evidence that was just sent this site’s way in the past 24 hours. Evidence that makes it even more abundantly clear that our loves, our lives, our families, our marriages are not part of this particular company’s vision:

201101260925

Bottom, undeniable line: Gay consumers are not included in the company’s view of love, family, and marriage. You, as a consumer, may be perfectly fine with that. Heck, you as a consumer might be happy about that. That’s all up to you. Personally, as a vegetarian in a city where Chick-Fil-A is as available as Dodo-Fil-A, I wasn’t likely to be found in one of the company’s stores anyway. So I don’t have a personal hen in this fryer — I’m leaving the consumer choice completely to the fast foodie’s personal discretion, and leaving the outreach choices completely up to the company.

But this site, as a defender of a societal standard that does include gay people, sees it fit to let you know what’s all crunching underneath that pickled bun. And the more the Chuck Colsons and Tony Perkins of the world paint us as radical squawkers who hate free speech for simply utilizing our own, the more compelled we will feel to defend our name. Our well-being. Our truth.




Good As You

—  admin

Model Florian Van Bael Kicked Off Bruce Weber’s A&F Shoot For Eating Carbs

Belgian model Florian Van Bael was fired from Bruce Weber's Abercrombie & Fitch catalog shoot in the Hamptons for — wait for it, wait for it — taking a bite of a croissant. Had he made it all the way through, he would've earned a pittance: of the 30 models on set, the men earn ,500 for the seven-day shoot; women grab ,500. Van Bael's own agent sided with Team Weber: "I don't think it's a question about coffee or croissant, it's just a question of respect during an important job." To which I say: While models, especially the barely clothed type A&F uses, of course have to look amazing, who the hell puts out croissants at craft services? That's just mean to the human hangars.

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Queerty

—  John Wright

A surprise trip to NYC – and a photo shoot for November’s issue of Interview Magazine

I was scheduled to be at Southern Comfort today — Autumn and Lurleen are still in Hotlanta. I did get to pose with them and the official transgender flag, created by activist Monica Helms. That’s the photo on the right.

But I had to hop on a flight to NYC for a last-minute honor — I, along with 13 other LGBTs were selected to be part of a photo shoot and feature for Interview Magazine‘s November issue. It’s a project that is the brainchild of photographer David Mushegain (see some of his work here, “The Spirit of Punk” and here) and Dustin Lance Black, Academy Award winner for Best Original Screenplay in 2009 for “Milk,” and board member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

As far as the article itself, I don’t know much about it other than it is about the LGBT “civil rights movement that showcases several of its core activists.” I haven’t been interviewed yet, but the photo shoot was today. The photography took place outdoors on the rooftop of a Lower East Side apartment building.

I wasn’t told much in advance other than to have 1) blue jeans, 2) a black T-shirt, and 3) a white button down shirt. The latter I had to go out and buy because I don’t wear button-down shirts because my boobage usually causes irritating gaps. I didn’t know if I needed to wear any makeup, so I showed up bare-faced. Anyway, I arrive and David greets me. He’s an incredibly nice guy, btw. Very laid back. There were stylists that we waited for. Of course I was hoping they could do something to ensure that I looked fabulous, or at least not embarrassing.

But there was a complication — they didn’t have my clothing or shoe sizes, so they had to guess. I think to myself, “oh no, nothing will fit.” Stylists are not used to working with short, top-heavy, overweight women. I cringed to myself. They opened the bag of clothing options and most were fall/winter things (it’s November issue). One item that looked like it might fit was one of those designer “little black dress” outfits – the all-purpose kind that I prayed would get over the boobage and not look like ass on me.

I came out and lo-and-behold, the size L fit well enough to do the job. Thank goodness for stretchable fabric. It wasn’t like sausage stuffing, but still. And there was no makeup person, so I was going to be shot as-is. OMG. All I had on me was lip gloss. Imagine the terror. Oh well, go with the flow. So we went onto the roof…

David’s theme is a 1950s B&W Polaroid look. What was fascinating about it was that he was using a 1950s camera that he had rebuilt, and David was using film that he acquired via auction. This stock was really old – as in the boxes had expiration dates that were over a decade old. Also, this particular size of Polaroid film is no longer made. He was going to work from the negatives, not the prints themselves, and took some digital shots for backup.

The weather was very nice – not hellish hot as it had been the last time I was in NY – and I was shot in full sun. We took many photos with my glasses on, since that’s how most people recognize me, and several with them off, standing and seated.

So after he went through quite a few of those old Polaroid cartridges, David was happy with the look he wanted. Now I don’t know which one  will end up in the magazine, but it seemed everyone agreed on two that were without my glasses, so it’s quite likely you’ll see me without specs, my hair down and not smiling. Very different look. But you know how those old photos no one seemed to smile, so I understand what he’s going for. I have a hard time not smiling or laughing. Modeling is hard work.

I was the last shoot of the day; he had already photographed David Mixner as well as Alan Cumming. David Mushegain showed me the Polaroids of theirs and the shots looked fabulously 50s.

Before I left, I asked for one of the reject prints from the shoot, and David kindly wrote a nice note on the back thanking me for my work and for participating in the project. I wonder what Kate will think of the shot.

***

NY miscellany – I must have a tattoo on my forehead that says “I’m a friendly New Yorker” because I was asked by 4 random people at 4 different station platforms for directions. And I was picked out — other people were standing around me each time. The weird thing is that 3 of them wanted to know what station or train to take to Ground Zero. Why people would want to go down there on 9/11 is beyond me. It’s probably a zoo and a traffic mess. Then again, 3 of them seemed to be foreign tourists.

But I was friendly and knew the answers, since I know the NY Subway system quite well after living in NY for many years. So maybe there is a tattoo on my forehead.

More below the fold.

The other thing I did today was do a surprise drop-by to see my NY relatives in Bed-Stuy, including my cousin Kim whose birthday is today, 9/11. I didn’t tell them I was coming, so it was fun to surprise them. They were holding a nice block party, so I took a few photos.


Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright

Babs on Aniston’s Photo Shoot

Barbra Streisand has something to say about Jennifer Aniston’s recent photo shoot for Harper’s Bazaar that recreated famous scenes in Streisand’s oeuvre.
Daily News

—  John Wright

Readers Voice Awards – Travel


RIGHT AT HOME: Owner Wayne Falcone polished a gem of Oak Lawn history by rescuing and reinventing the Daisy Polk House. – DANIEL A. KUSNER/Dallas Voice

BEST BED AND BREAKFAST


Daisy Polk Inn
2917 Reagan St., Dallas.
214-522-4692
Sun.-Sat. 24 hrs.
Daisy Suite and Reagan Suite: $150 a night.
Dickason Suite: $129 a night.
DaisyPolkInn.com

The Daisy Polk Inn is every bit the grand dame that its namesake was. Built in 1904 and fully restored by 2002, the home was first owned by, who else, Daisy Polk — an “up and coming” star (according to the Dallas Press) of the Dallas opera scene who also taught at Hockaday School for Girls and passed away in 1980.

She lived at the Reagan Street address for 60 years. The gorgeous arts and crafts home now belongs to local pharmacist Wayne Falcone, who purchased the property in 1996. He lovingly restored it to its natural and historically correct beauty with the help of Dallas antiques expert and interior designer Gerald Tomlin.

Once the home was granted historical status and licensure to become a bed and breakfast, Falcone decided to open its doors to the public.

Guests can rent any one of the three rooms or the whole place if they prefer. Unlike typical B&Bs. Falcone turns over the keys to his guests, and they have the place to themselves until morning, when breakfast is served. And breakfast at the Daisy Polk Inn is no simple affair. From the china to the home-baked goodies, it is a lavish meal that guests won’t soon forget.

— Jenny Block

 



BEST ROMANTIC GETAWAY
New Orleans, La.
Convention and Visitor’s Bureau:
NewOrleansCVB.com
Visitor’s bureau LGBT focus:
NewOrleansOnline GLBT

 

A little more than two years ago, most of America seemed to have written off New Orleans — it was destined to become a modern-day Atlantis, swallowed up by the sea and passed away into legend.

But the residents of the Crescent City would have none of that. They persevered, rehabilitating the city as quickly as possible and welcoming back tourists — especially gay tourists — with enthusiasm. (It helps that the French Quarter, the center of gay life, is above sea-level and was largely spared when the levees broke.)

Certainly bachelor revelers into great partying and easy hookups don’t have to find a reason to frequent the Big Easy other than Mardi Gras and Southern Decadence, but the city’s old antebellum charm makes it a romantic getaway for couples, too.

For exploring together, there’s the fabulous architecture, much of it spared from the hurricane: elaborate wrought iron, ethereal churches, sprawling plantations on the outskirts (including one, Houmas House, where “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” was filmed).

Then there’s the food, an essential component whenever lovers get together. Creole and Cajun cuisine, from rich cream sauces to spices that can shoot steam from your ears, dominate, but the French influences extend all the way to the café au lait and beignets. And is there anything more romantic than a boat ride along the Mighty Mississip?

So yes, New Orleans is a great party town for solos, but we love to go there as pairs. After all, even couples know how to party.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

 


BEST AIRLINE
American Airlines
Corporate headquarters: 4333 Amon Carter Blvd., Fort Worth, Texas.
817-963-1234, 800-321-2121
Mon.-Sat. 24 hrs.
aa.com or American Airlines Rainbow

 


BEST NATIONAL ONLINE TRAVEL SITE
Travelocity
Corporate headquarters: 3150 Sabre Drive, Southlake, Texas.
888-872-8356
Sun.-Sat. 24 hrs.
Travelocity.com

BEST LOCAL ONLINE TRAVEL SITE
Best Gay Cruises
P.O. Box 59994, Dallas.
972-241-2000
Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
BestGayCruises.com


BEST BUDGET HOTEL CHAIN
La Quinta
Corporate headquarters: 909 Hidden Ridge, Suite 600, Irving, Texas.
800-642-4271
Sun.-Sat. 24 hrs.
LQ.com


BEST LUXURY HOTEL CHAIN
Hilton Hotels
Eight hotels in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
800-774-1500
Sun.-Sat. 24 hrs.
Hilton.com


BEST DALLAS HOTEL
W Dallas-Victory
2440 Victory Park Lane, Dallas.
888-625-5144
Sun.-Sat. 24 hrs.
WHotels.com/Dallas


BEST AIRPORT SHUTTLE SERVICE
SuperShuttle
SuperShuttle local office: 3010 N. Airfield Drive, Suite 100, DFW Airport, Texas.
With service to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Dallas Love Field and Fort Worth Meacham International Airport.
800-258-3826
Sun.-Sat. 24 hrs.
SuperShuttle.com

BEST WEEKEND GETAWAY
Rainbow Ranch
1662 Limestone County Road 800, Groesbeck, Texas.
888-875-7596
Sun.-Thu. 8 a.m.-8 p.m.,
Fri.-Sat. 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
RainbowRanch.net

BEST LOCAL TOURIST DESTINATION
Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
411 Elm St., Suite 120.
214-747-6660
Tue.-Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.,
Mon. noon-6 p.m.
JFK.org

BEST LOCAL TOURIST TRAP
West End Historical District
214-741-7180
DallasWestEnd.org

BEST VACATION SPOT TO GET LAID
Palm Springs, Calif.
Palm Springs tourism bureau:
Palm-Springs.org


BEST EXOTIC DESTINATION
Hawaii
Official tourism site: GoHawaii.com

‘GET ME OUT OF HERE!’ DESTINATION
Jamaica
Visitor Web site: ComeToJamaica.com

These articles appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 21, 2008

—  admin