New-York Historical Remembers Bill Cunningham
In March of 2014, the New-York Historical Society mounted Facades, an exhibition of photographs taken by Bill Cunningham as part of an eight-year project, begun in the late 1960s, to document the architectural riches and fashion history of New York City. The photographs had been gifted to New-York Historical by Mr. Cunningham, who used our Patricia D. Klingenstein Library for much of his research. We were delighted when, in the course of the show’s development, Mr. Cunningham agreed to add another photograph to our collection, which depicted his “muse,” Editta Sherman dressed in exquisite period costume against the backdrop of a graffiti-covered New York City subway car. That photograph might seem emblematic of hard times in 1970s New York. But truly it was vivid proof of Mr. Cunningham’s ability to see beauty where others saw only despair. As we mourn Bill Cunningham’s passing, we treasure this photograph above all.
In advance of Facades' opening, we planned a VIP reception for the show’s supporters, including New-York Historical Trustees and Chairman’s Council members, as well as the photographer and his guests. Mrs. Sherman had by that time died—at the age of 100—so we invited her family to celebrate with us in her stead. Very coincidentally, the date we chose for the reception, March 13, was the day of Mr. Cunningham’s 85th birthday. With the help and encouragement and creative talents of our good friend, John Kurdewan, who worked with Mr. Cunningham at the Times, we quickly revised our customary opening plans. The event was now a surprise birthday party for Mr. Cunningham, with his extended family in attendance as part of the surprise. The photographs we took of the occasion show a very happy birthday celebrant. Indeed it was a marvelous occasion for all—even more so when Mr. Cunningham made remarks. We will always recall him telling the guests, “I just have fun whatever I’m doing. Otherwise, it’s not worth doing . . . money isn’t worth it. It’s much better to go out and do what you want.”
We mourn the passing of Bill Cunningham, a great New Yorker and friend. We hope this online tribute to him can convey both a sense of his tremendous talent as a photographer and as a historian of architecture and fashion.
With best regards,