Street Photography is not just a favorite genre of today, it offers a longer history than many may imagine – gaining first prominence and real attention with Bill Cunningham. In 1968 Cunningham embarked on a major eight-year project to document the architectural riches and fashion history of New York City.
Scouring the city’s thrift stores, auction houses, and street fairs for vintage clothing, and scouting sites on his bicycle, he generated a photographic essay entitled Facades, which paired models—in particular his muse, fellow photographer Editta Sherman—in period costumes with historic settings.
Although by turns whimsical and bold, Cunningham’s project also was part of the larger cultural zeitgeist in New York City, during an era in which issues surrounding both the preservation and the problems of the urban landscape loomed large. The photographer donated 88 silver gelatin prints from the series to the New-York Historical Society in 1976, and now, almost four decades later, Cunningham’s work is reconsidered in a show that highlights the historical perspective the photographs suggest.
Cunningham is certainly best known for his iconic photographs of vintage costumes shot against landmark New York City backgrounds. He also worked for the New York Times – presenting the newspaper’s street style column, but the photo essays that are shown in the exhibition differ from his later work and also have the special aura of eary times. The show reminds us of how particular and versatile Cunningham has always been, how he managed to merge realism and fantasy in an intriguing way.
BILL CUNNINGHAM Facades 14 March – 15 June The New York Historical Society nyhistory.org