Bill Cunningham, Noted Street-Style Photographer, Dies at 87

The New York Times fashion photog was born and raised in Boston, and often returned to cover special events.

bill cunningham

Photo via AP

Legendary photographer Bill Cunningham has died at 87, the New York Times reports. The fashion photographer worked for the Times for nearly 40 years, known for his photo essays documenting everything from street style to fashion shows to party pics. According to the NYT, he had recently been hospitalized following a stroke and passed away Saturday.

If you’re a fan of street style, you likely know of Bill Cunningham, who was born and raised in Boston—the second of four children in an Irish Catholic family—before moving to NYC at age 19 after a year at Harvard. Cunningham was snapping pics of everyday people about town long before iPhones and Instagram existed. He captured locals and tourists strolling around the city dressed in trends of the moment, from bare shoulders and capes, to gold and checks, to fanny packs, biker shorts, ripped jeans, and so on. With Cunningham’s work, style enthusiasts saw fashion through a fresh new lens, and both everyday fashionistas and Fashion Week attendees alike came to know the photographer who expertly connected craft with cultural context. Take it from Vogue editor Anna Wintour: “I’ve said many times, we all get dressed for Bill.”

Cunningham has been profiled many times: in a 2010 documentary and a 2009 New Yorker profile, for example. One of the best ways to get to know Cunningham, though, is of course in his own words. From the 2002 article “Bill on Bill” in the Times:

As a kid, I photographed people at ski resorts — you know, when you got on the snow train and went up to New Hampshire. And I did parties. I worked as a stock boy at Bonwit Teller in Boston, where my family lived, and there was a very interesting woman, an executive, at Bonwit’s. She was sensitive and aware, and she said, “I see you outside at lunchtime watching people.” And I said, “Oh, yeah, that’s my hobby.” She said, “If you think what they’re wearing is wrong, why don’t you redo them in your mind’s eye.” That was really the first professional direction I received.

And young Bostonistas, don’t think that because Cunningham left Boston early in life that he didn’t retain an affection for New England throughout his career. In recent years, he’s been back to the Bay State to cover the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum gala, the spring return of the museum’s signature nasturtium vines, and the Nahant Victorian Dance Weekend. Make no mistake, he probably knew more than you. Those who have been photographed by the gentleman in the blue jacket should consider themselves lucky.