If you’ve been to New York in the last 50 years (and if you haven’t, take a moment to put a big red ribbon around your leg to remind you to go), you may well have come across Bill Cunningham. He’s been photographing people on the street since the 1960’s and much of what he finds is published every week in the Sunday New York Times (Style Section, “On the Street” and “Evening Hours,”)

And if you normally dress like any of the people above, you may have been photographed by Bill. He knows a lot about High Fashion, but what he seems to love even more is the capacity of otherwise ordinary people to bring a sense of style to their everyday lives.

Above from here

Bill gets around on a bike, and he has a particular fondness for others who do. Especially if they bring a little pazzaz to the occasion.

Above is the same woman, with the same bike, but looking transformed. She has what it takes to catch Bill’s eye, and that she has done. Time and again.

Slideshow of happy bikers here

Bill himself has led a simple life. His job requires only a camera, a bike, and him, usually dressed in a blue jacket. He was never trained to do this, he says, and he is, according to him, not a very good photographer. Yet, week after week, his pictures are in the New York Times.

He lived for many years above Carnegie Hall. Recently, due to redevelopment plans, he had to move on. He slept on a piece of foam that tops a board propped up by milk crates, and had access to a shared bathroom and kitchen. It is almost a monk’s life. Until he hits the streets.

Some admiring film makers made a movie about Bill and released it in March 2010. See here . And here as well

He’s been doing this sort of thing longer than his pictures have appeared in the NYT. Way back, he produced a remarkable book called Facades (1978). Can be found here.

It’s about fashion and architecture through the ages. Sort of.

There is no one quite like Bill Cunningham, and maybe there never was. He’s a simple man who has spent much of his life in the midst of a complex and exclusive society–the fashion tribesĀ  of New York (and Paris).

He may not have the native talent or even the knowledge of a typical professional photographer, but he has something wonderful that connects with both the fashion world and with those of us who simply dress to keep warm.

Something in Bill Cunningham attracts him to just those things we’d all like to see. He is like one of those gifted people who can find water with a branch.

He is an example to young and old, to the in crowd and to the rest of us–use what you have, put your heart into it, explore new territory every day, and at the end of the day, show the world what you found.

That’s pretty much what we try to do at the R of L, which is one of the reasons why Bill is such a favourite of ours, as he is to so many others.

Bill Cunningham and Carmen Dell’Orefice, 2010 from here.

If you have some time, sometime, take a look at a the slide shows Bill produces for the NYT website–with a commentary in his wonderful Boston-born voice. Here is one from Halloween 2008. And another beauty about navigating the slushy streets, with style.

Many more to choose from here. Thank you Bill.