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

Broadway Actress Daphne Rubin-Vega Offers First Spanish Voice to New Yorkers for Marriage Equality

Broadway actress Daphne Rubin-Vega is the latest New Yorker to join the Human Rights Campaign’s “New Yorkers for Marriage Equality” campaign.  Rubin-Vega lent her voice to the campaign with two videos, one in English, and the first Spanish language video of the series. Both new videos, and the entire campaign, can be viewed online at www.hrc.org/NY4marriage.

“There is nothing more important to me than the love and commitment that a family brings,” said Rubin-Vega. “That’s why I support equal marriage rights for all.”

ENGLISH VIDEO

SPANISH VIDEO

With the eight and ninth installments of the series; Rubin-Vega joins Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Mayor Bloomberg, Moby, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, actress Fran Drescher, Julianne Moore and designer Kenneth Cole to support marriage equality in the state. In the coming weeks and months HRC will continue the series of prominent New Yorkers speaking out in support for marriage equality to include: Whoopi Goldberg, David Chang, Tom Colicchio, Ethan and Ryan Hawke, Christopher Meloni and Joan Rivers.

A marriage equality bill failed last year by eight votes in the New York state Senate despite having the support of the Governor and being passed in the Assembly. HRC’s Campaign for New York Marriage has worked tirelessly this election and had big wins throughout the state. Check out our election results page to find out more about our victories in New York.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  admin

New “New Yorkers for Marriage Equality” Video

Following the recent release of videos of Julianne Moore and Kenneth Cole talking about marriage equality, today the Human Rights Campaign released a new video from Jeanne-Moutoussamy-Ashe, the widow of the late tennis star Arthur Ashe. The campaign raises the public profile of marriage equality in the Empire State leading into this fall’s elections and next year’s anticipated legislative action. The campaign can be viewed online at www.hrc.org/NY4marriage.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

Watch: Julianne Moore Appears in First Ad in HRC Series of New Yorkers for Marriage Equality

Moore

In July I posted about a new effort by the Human Rights Campaign toward marriage equality in New York. The Campaign for New York Marriage, headed by Brian Ellner, has just launched the first in a series of ads intended to lobby public support for the issue.

The NYT reports:

"The timing of commercials is deliberate, and revealing: With the front-runner in the governor’s race, Andrew M. Cuomo, the Democratic attorney general, pledging his support for same-sex marriage, and the Legislature in Democratic hands, advocates are pushing for a new vote early next year. 'We want to build excitement and momentum in advance of that,' said Ellner…As part of that strategy, the Human Rights Campaign and its allies are spending heavily to oust three New York state senators — all Democrats — who voted against the marriage bill last year and who face opponents in the primary on Tuesday: William Stachowski of Buffalo, Shirley L. Huntley of Queens and Rubén Díaz Sr. of the Bronx."

Along with Moore, the ads will feature  Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg,  Rev. Al Sharpton Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Whoopi Goldberg, Fran Drescher, Tom Colicchio,  and Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, the widow of Arthur Ashe.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP


Towleroad News #gay

—  John Wright

New Yorkers are Bringing Change to Albany!

The following post comes from HRC Field Intern Maggie Campbell:

New York Senate District 58 is buzzing with support for state senate candidate Tim Kennedy, who was recently endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign. Kennedy is a strong progressive candidate who promises to bring the voice of Western New York’s LGBT community back to Albany and cast his vote for marriage equality!

Regional Field Organizer David Contreras Turley, along with Field Intern Jacob Smith and myself, are in Tim’s hometown of South Buffalo energizing HRC members in Western New York. Last night was the grand opening of the Kennedy field office in West Seneca and we saw an outpouring of support from the community. The volunteers are excited to see HRC at work in New York, and we are honored to be working with such a dedicated team, not to mention eating some fantastic Buffalo wings!

If you live in the Buffalo area and are interested in volunteering for a great pro-equality candidate, contact David Turley at David.Turley@hrc.org or call him at 202-330-3790.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright