Celebrating Bill Cunningham at New York Historical Society




Bill Cunningham
Unidentified photographer
Bill Cunningham Photographing Five Models, ca. 1968−76
Gelatin silver print
New-York Historical Society Library, Gift of Bill Cunningham

‘On the Street’ and its author at The New York Times, Bill Cunningham, have been part of the fabric of being a New Yorker for as long as we can remember.  In celebration, The New York Historical Society prepares to celebrate the life of this iconic figure in its upcoming exhibit, Celebrating Bill Cunningham.

Bill Cunningham
Unidentified photographer
Bill Cunningham with camera, October 1974
New-York Historical Society Library, Melanie Tinnelly Collection of Photographs of or by Bill Cunningham and Toni “Suzette” Cimino. Image courtesy of New York Historical Society

William John “Bill” Cunningham Jr. (1929-2016) is best remembered as the fashion photographer for the New York Times. After dropping out of Harvard in 1948, he moved to New York City at the age of 19, and in 1978, his candid photo’s on the streets of the City, caught the attention of The New York Times ~ where he reported for the paper for 40 years.

Bill Cunningham
Ciel Bicycles (est. about 1987), New York City, retailer
Biria, Germany (est. 1976), manufacturer
Bicycle used by Bill Cunningham, ca. 2002
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Louise Doktor, 2017.13.1. Image courtesy of New York Historical Society

Recent acquisitions by The New York Historical Society will be on view in this exhibit. It will include objects, personal correspondence, ephemera, and photographs that reflect the life and work of this iconic New York figure. Among the highlights will be the bicycle that he rode around the city, his first camera, an Olympus Pen-D, 35mm; and his signature blue jacket.

Antonio Alvarez
Bill Cunningham photographing Tziporah Salamon, 2011
Courtesy Antonio Alvarez

In addition, personal photographs of Cunningham at home and with friends; correspondence, including a few of the hand-made Valentines he frequently sent to friends; and a New York City street sign, “Bill Cunningham Corner,” that was temporarily installed at 5th Avenue and 57th Street in his honor, following his death in 2016.

Bill Cunningham
Camera (Nikon Model D5200) with 24 mm lens, used by Bill Cunningham, ca. 2012
New-York Historical Society, Gift of Louise Doktor, 2017.13.3

You might remember The New York Historical Society’s exhibit on Editta Sherman, with film footage taken at La Vie Boheme ~ the apartments above Carnegie Hall with Cunningham, her friend and neighbor. For eight years, beginning in 1968, Cunningham photographed Sherman in vintage costumes, using iconic Manhattan buildings of the same period as a backdrop. This project, later published in 1978 as a collection of 128 photographs entitled Facades, actually grew to 800 locations and 500 different outfits.  A selection from Cunningham’s Facades will also be on display in this exhibit.

Savinien Caracostea
Bill Cunningham, (part of the Friends Series), December 2014

Cunningham lived at La Vie Boheme, the apartments above Carnegie Hall, in a studio apartment that was so small, it lacked a private bathroom or kitchen, but was filled with file cabinets ~ and a single bed.

Cunningham, Sherman and the other formidable residence were forced to move in 2010, when Cunningham relocated to a modern apartment overlooking Central Park, where he lived until his death in 2016.

Celebrating Bill Cunningham will be on view from June 8 to September 9, 2018 at The New York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West at 77th Street.  This exhibit is curated by Debra Schmidt Bach, curator of decorative arts at New York Historical Society.

Look back at Bill Cunningham in the exhibition at New York Historical Society featuring Editta Sherman, The Duchess of Carnegie Hall. 

The New York Landmarks Conservancy made Bill Cunningham a living landmark in 2009. In 2010, a documentary “Bill Cunningham New York” premiered at The Museum of Modern Art.

As a sidenote, did you know that his family discovered that he left a written memoir?  Entitled ‘Fashion Climbing.’  More on that right Here.  Penguin Press acquired this memoir at auction, and it will be published posthumously in September, 2018.