I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to have photographed so many people this year. And while there have been some truly interesting, pretty famous and flat out gorgeous people who’ve graced the pages of Lord Ashbury, my soul skipped for one person, the incredible, incomparable Mr. Cunningham.
The New York Times fashion photographer is as much an icon as the people he’s photographed over the decades–he is in the conversation of the most influential photographers of all time. During fashion week this past weekend in New York, I followed him around for twenty minutes and watched him work. To be honest, it felt like a cross between a highly prestigious apprenticeship and auditing a special class for a day.
The thing about photographers is that many of them are the same on the surface: uniform, standoffish/secretive behaviour, an uncanny ability to pounce when the opportunity arises. Bill Cunningham does none of these things sans uniform (his blue jacket is very much his trademark). He’s incredibly nimble and swift for an 83-year-old. In fact, he rarely stops moving while he works, which brings up a fascinating point concerning his engagement–the man only stops when he sees something that interests him. People approach Bill on the street to talk to him, but he cannot be distracted while he works. He carries a polite half-smile on his face as he walks along, and he nods to acknowledge clearly articulated compliments handed his way by strangers, but there’s rarely more than that. When he does manage to find something–or someone–that interests him, if they feel so inclined, a few short pleasantries to be exchanged are allowed. Socially speaking, it’s almost as if he has a sort of monotone relationship with the general population at large in that everyone on the street is identically void of colour, and only those truly worthy of making in the pages of the NY Times are bright with vitality. This is not a dig, mind you, but the reality is that he’s far more likely to talk to those people he’s photographed before.
Bill is quick with his camera and will often snap a photo of someone in the brief still of a halfstep. He takes only one photo usually and moves on; two if he needs to be sure from a different angle, but even these are few and far in between. I’m fascinated by how quickly he shoots and the first to admit that my ever-improving technique of capturing people in motion was largely inspired by paying attention to how he handles his camera.
While most of the photos in Lord Ashbury are probably closer to someone like the Sartorialist (portraits, poses), I think it’s a great honour when people throw his name out when explaining my blog to friends in front of me. No, I am nowhere in this man’s league, but someday I hope to be. One photo at a time.