I am in love with an 80-year-old man. Or … let’s say, I’m in love with an 80-year-old man’s creative, gentle soul.
Have you guys seen the documentary Bill Cunningham New York? We caught it at the Kendall Square Cinema on Saturday in a packed theater of all ages. Bill Cunningham is a fashion photographer known for his “On the Street” column for the New York Times. He takes candid shots of both everyday and famous people on the streets of NYC and assembles them in groups or collages. The uniting themes of each of his collages arise organically from what he notices from behind his camera. He scoots around the city on his bike and lives in an apartment in which he asked the landlord to take out the kitchen cabinets and appliances in order to fit in his scores of metal filing cabinets filled with his archived shots reaching back to the 1970s.
“It isn’t what I think, it’s what I see,” Mr. Cunningham says. “I let the street speak to me. You’ve got to stay on the street and let the street tell you what it is.”
There’s a lot about fashion in the film, of course, and that’s always fun, but what really draws me to Bill is his approach to his craft. His openness to new experiences fuels his creative drive. He is described as wanting “nothing more than to be able to stand on the street and wait to be thrilled by what someone is wearing. Period.” I think this is also what makes a good graphic designer. The ability to be open … in other words, to not care about ego or your own message, but to cultivate the skill of bringing the pieces of different ideas together (the message of the copy, popular culture, unifying themes, quirky juxtapositions) into a new idea, whole unto itself.
And he’s ok with the fact that “most of [his] pictures are never published.” He’s not editing himself when he’s out there collecting his shots. The time for editing is later when the column is being put together. Sometimes I feel like I skip this step and go right into “editing” mode when I’m designing (and when I’m working on my own artwork at home). This film is very much about waiting patiently to be thrilled by a new idea (after putting in the prep work to get to a place where you are ready) and is a delightful reminder that it’s possible for this to happen every day.