I saw a movie last week that – I kid you not – changed my life and if you get a chance, if it shows up in your city or you find it on Netflix or at your local DVD store (we still have those, right?) make sure you see it.
This movie – the story of a life – is inspiring. Not because Bill Cunningham is an amazing photographer – though he is. And not so much because of the what he’s done with his life – though that’s fascinating and inspiring. But because of Bill himself.
A little background. Bill Cunningham is a photographer. He’s a photographer, first and foremost, of street fashion. He knows everything about haute couture but he wants to document how that fashion plays out on the streets of New York, how real people are wearing it. For many years, he’s worked for the New York Times doing two pages. The first is a page of street fashion, what he’s seen on the street and what the connections are. The second page is a society page – though it’s society with a twist. He only photographs galas for charities and he NEVER takes even a glass of water at the event.
Bill is 80 now and he still rides his bike – every season of the year – through the streets of New York. Rain or shine, wind or sleet, he’s out there taking photographs. He lives, or lived until just recently, in a tiny studio in Carnegie Hall. He had a cot, used the public washroom down the hall, and didn’t even have a hotplate. The rest of his studio, stairs, windowsills, floor and all, is covered with filing cabinets for the hundreds of thousands of photographs he’s taken, with books and with papers. His bike is locked up in a storage room down the hall. He’s on his 26th bike – the other 25 were stolen.
All of this makes for a fascinating and interesting and exciting story of one man’s life.
What makes it irresistible is Bill himself. He lives, in some ways, the simplest of lives. He gets up in the morning, goes out and buys a cheap cup of coffee and something simple to eat, gets on his bike and watches the world around him. When he finds something interesting, he takes a photograph. Repeat. He spends fashion week in Paris, dressed in his same blue smock and taking photographs. And he smiles. And smiles. And smiles.
Riding his bike in the rain, or the snow, patching his $2 poncho with duct tape, chatting with the boy he spots wearing his sneakers a new way or Brooke Astor on her 100th birthday. Bill is enjoying the life he lives, actually creating the life he wants as he creates his photographs.
He began by taking photographs without knowing what to do with them, eventually he got a job on a magazine, that led to another job, which led eventually to the Times. But through it all, he did what he loved. Photographing people and their clothes and how they wore them. He didn’t care whether he made a pile of money – and he could have. He took the risk of being different, of not following a market or the money. He didn’t, still doesn’t, do what anyone else did. He took photographs his way. He just did what he loved and continues to do what he loves.
Every single day.
I’m aspiring to Bill Cunningham’s courage. I want, when I’m 80, to be as full of joy as Bill Cunningham. I want to look back and say I’ve lived a joyous and joyful life. So thanks, Bill. You’ve inspired me.