In Memoriam: William “Bill” Cunningham, 1929–2016

William “Bill” Cunningham, renowned for his prolific career as a photographer for the New York Times, has passed away at the age of 87, after a stroke.

Cunningham’s photographic career spanned nearly forty years, making him a well-known and memorable figure on the New York City street scene. He traversed the varied neighborhoods of New York with equal attention, capturing not only fashion trends and street style, but also the city’s ever-expanding culture and diversity. Cunningham became easily recognizable by his trademark Schwinn bicycle, unassuming attire, and 35mm camera.

Cunningham was awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest distinction for civil merit, in Paris in 2008. His iconic status was cemented in 2009, when the New York Landmarks Conservancy designated Bill Cunningham as a “living landmark.” Cunningham was also the subject of the 2010 documentary Bill Cunningham New York, directed by Richard Press, which earned accolades and praise beginning with its premier at the Museum of Modern Art.

Perhaps less known about Cunningham’s extraordinary work ethic was the ascetic existence that he maintained in private. Reticent and unassuming, Cunningham never acknowledged his own growing celebrity as an achievement of any kind, but rather as a nuisance that distracted him from his true work: serving as an anthropologist of New York City’s stylistic zeitgeist.

Angela Freeman is New York-based writer, designer, and enthusiast of creative expression.

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