Culture: Bill Cunningham Facades

Long before the walls of street photographers attended fashion weeks, casting a literal shadow over the entrances to the tents, show spaces and Louvre courtyards, one man began it all. This gentleman started his career as a milliner and fashion journalist no less, later finding a passion for documenting fashion where it really begins – on the city streets. This man is Bill Cunningham and until June 15th the New York Historical Society Museum and Library presents ‘Facades’, a celebration of his work from 1968-1978.

The exhibition pays homage to the photographer’s 1978 book of the same name; a culmination of an eight-year project to document his own unique view on New York’s rich fashion history. A collaboration with his long-term friend and neighbour, fellow photographer Editta Sherman (who died last year aged 101); the duo scoured the city’s thrift stores and auction houses whilst scouting locations by bicycle to document their vintage fashion finds.

The book conveyed an chic selection of vintage attire, often modelled by Editta, amongst historic backdrops. Despite the whimsical appearance of Cunningham’s photographs, the architectural surroundings provide an undertone on preservation – a debate that has long plagued NYC in its relentless urbanisation.

Each image in the exhibition matches clothing with architecture that exemplifies eras ranging from the late 18th century to the fifties, whilst Editta plays each part wonderfully. This is a real survey of centuries of fashion, tuning in to the realities of creativity during their time yet presented in a way that is so wonderfully characteristic of Bill’s capricious documentary style. The New York Historical Society show features almost 88 gelatin silver prints from the series, which Cunningham donated after the book was completed.

About the Author

Based just outside London, Sarah-Leigh Wade-Bunting is an editor and brand consultant working with trend forecasting organisations and international retailers, specialising in digital media. Sarah-Leigh launched her popular eponymous blog in 2009 and is an advocate of emerging talent, vintage fashion and the arts. You can follow her on Twitter @sarah_leigh_b