I discovered Bill Cunningham -fashion photographer for the New York Times- about a year before his death in 2016. His documentary –Bill Cunningham: New York– is fascinating. He lived a single life and a singular life. Although I don’t recall anyone straight up saying in the documentary that he is an introvert, Cunningham seemed to live the life of one.
In an article for the New York Times, Cunningham says,
“I STARTED photographing people on the street during World War II. I used a little box Brownie. Nothing too expensive. The problem is I’m not a good photographer. To be perfectly honest, I’m too shy. Not aggressive enough. Well, I’m not aggressive at all. I just loved to see wonderfully dressed women, and I still do. That’s all there is to it.”
Career-wise Cunningham found something that he liked; he stumbled upon fashion photography when someone gave him a camera. How can an introvert in a social world like the world of Fashion (with a capital F) be comfortable? I think the answer is that he found a little cubby for himself in the industry.
His employers gave him a great amount of autonomy – something introverts tend to need. He would shoot runways, but he was also fond of street style – photographing what people wear around town.
He would run around New York City, not necessarily talking to anyone, but observing trends, photographing patterns of sartorial behavior, investigating style and delighting when people bring a little brightness to winter with a pop of sky blue, heralding the spring.
His face absolutely lights up as he describes fashion, when he says that you do not know what people will think to wear next. That’s when I realized Cunningham must have been something like a birdwatcher, except the birds are human and they change their plumage every day. The possibilities are endless.
I appreciate Cunningham’s attention to male fashion – you can still see his archived weekly trend-spotting videos at the New York Times website. Male fashion, to my untrained eye, does not seem to change much. But Cunningham finds the subtleties, and appreciates the boldness of youngsters paving the way for a revolution in male fashion – something I would not have noticed. Cunningham’s attention to detail quietly draws your eye to what you would not have seen.