NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bill Cunningham, the celebrated New York Times fashion photographer known for his shots of emerging trends on the streets of New York City, died on Saturday at age of 87 after being hospitalized for a stroke.
Cunningham worked for the New York Times for nearly 40 years, operating “as a dedicated chronicler of fashion and as an unlikely cultural anthropologist,” the newspaper said.
His photo spreads were a staple of the paper’s Style section and chronicled changing fashion through his choice of themes such as swirling skirts, Birkin bags and gaudy floral prints.
“A lot of people complain about fashion and fast fashion. There is no fashion. That is baloney. Look at this,” he said in a video for a recent spread in the paper on the use of black and white contrasts in clothing.
Cunningham took pictures of celebrated New Yorkers at swank events and traveled the city by bicycle for decades, often wearing his signature blue jacket, to shoot street fashion typically using a single-lens reflex camera.
“He wanted to find subjects, not be the subject. He wanted to observe, rather than be observed. Asceticism was a hallmark of his brand,” the newspaper said.
Cunningham, who had tried his hand at hat making, was drafted by the U.S. Army during the Korean War. After he got out in 1953, he eventually found work as a fashion reporter.
In the mid-1960s he acquired a small camera to help him with his work, and that started him off in fashion photography.
“I had just the most marvelous time with that camera. Everybody I saw I was able to record,” he wrote in the Times in 2002.
In 2008, the French government awarded him the Legion d’Honneur for his work. A year later, he was named a Living Landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy.
Cunningham became known to a wider world through an acclaimed 2010 documentary chronicling his career, in which Vogue Magazine editor Anna Wintour quipped: “We all get dressed for Bill.”
In an obituary in Vogue, editor-at-large Hamish Bowles wrote “his scrupulous editorial standards of both content and comportment were old world.”
Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., publisher and chairman of the Times, said Cunningham’s “company was sought after by the fashion world’s rich and powerful, yet he remained one of the kindest, most gentle and humble people I have ever met.”
His life was one of austerity. He slept on a single size cot where he lived until 2010 in a studio above Carnegie Hall, chock full of file cabinets containing his negatives.
When asked why he spent years ripping up checks for his work from magazines, he said, “Money’s the cheapest thing. Liberty and freedom is the most expensive,” the Times reported.
Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Mary Milliken