I’ve been trying to find something not too mawkish to say about the photographer Bill Cunningham (op cit in this blog) who died on June 24, aged 87.
I loved his artfully artless photographs. He worked for The New York Times for about 40 years, and was a cross between a street photographer and a fashion photographer, snapping the fashionable people out in public in Manhattan. He did some other stuff as well, at parties and balls, but it’s the street stuff that matters.
Cunningham wasn’t one of the great New York walkers (he actually got around by bike mostly) but he was certainly on foot when he took his pictures. He was certainly a kind of urban explorer, and probably an anthropologist, and maybe even a psychogeographer.
He may not have been looking for, in Debord’s terms, “zones of distinct psychic atmosphere” but he certainly knew where to go to find people who were looking good and wearing fabulous clothes. And of course he often photographed them while they were walking.
I never saw him when I lived in New York, but I know others who did, some of whom wished he’d take their photograph, but he never did – and I know some snappy dressers.
He seemed to have had the trick, and maybe we should say gift, of appearing benign and good-natured when he photographed his subjects. If he wanted to take your picture then you didn’t feel threatened or maligned, you knew you looked good. Compare and contrast with that other great New York street photographer Bruce Gilden, who creates this effect:.
Even so I’m not sure there are many men who could get away with the kind of thing that’s going on in the picture below:
If most of us tried to photography the feet and shoes of a bunch of women standing on the street in Manhattan, I’m pretty sure the cops would be called. I think you could probably talk your way out of it, though I wouldn’t advise you to say you were a flaneur, much less a psychogeographer.