Living in New York City with 8 million New Yorkers, you quickly learn to bop and weave down the street, dodging anonymous faces that brush shoulders with you from all directions. The streets are long and the pace is fast, even frenetic at times.
But then there are New York's institutions. They have been around forever; they ground you. They remind you that despite the hectic pace, this city was created by someone, for someone. It might be a familiar building, like the New York Public Library or the Flatiron. It could be a statue or a monument, like "the Arch" in Washington Square Park. Then again, even if rarely, it might be a person.
Bill Cunningham, with his blue jackets, khaki pants, and Nikons strapped around his neck, was one of those people. He is famous as the eccentric pioneer who captured through his lens the relevance of Street Style's in Fashion. He curated a column in the New York Times for 40 years, and, until 2010, he lived amidst rows of filing cabinets rife with negatives in a studio above Carnegie Hall. He was a fixture on the Northeast corner of 57th and 5th. Heat or cold, rain or shine, he was there photographing the most stylish commuters on their way to work.
I came close to meeting him once at the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor's Island. When I put out my hand (Bill hadn't seen me yet, he was busy photographing the people around us), I stopped, and stepped back... I couldn't bring myself to interrupt a master so focused on his craft. It was then that I understood how special this man was, and how important he was to New York City.
As sure as the subway runs, and the Statue of Liberty presides proudly over the southern tip of this island, Bill was in the midst of the world's most elegant people, capturing their most stylish moments.
He passed away yesterday at 87 years old. It's a bat of an eye compared to New York's other institutions, but his impact was no less significant.
RIP, Mr. Cunningham. Thank you for keeping us New Yorkers grounded.