I recently watched Bill Cunningham New York again. What a documentary. What a man. Bill Cunningham is a guru for how to live passionately. He has been documenting street fashion for decades, tootling around New York City on a classic Schwinn bicycle. The man is an octogenarian, and he goes out almost every night to photograph society parties for the New York Times. He loves beautiful, unusual clothes, and he places no negative judgment on how people present themselves…except the lack of judgment. If you’re wearing something bland, he will not be interested in you. Even if you’re a movie star. But if you’ve got brilliant candy-colored hair, or a bright striped blanket coat, or baggy pants that hang down past your butt, or a black plastic bag on your head, or if you’re a man in a kilt, or an old lady with purple hair and a fascinator—Bill Cunningham will want to photograph you. He won’t think you’re silly; he’ll think you’re wonderful. His art form is completely unique. I’m not even sure what it is. He says he isn’t a photographer. It’s more like his art is the ability to see beauty in thousands of different incarnations, and this art form is his driving passion. He doesn’t care about money. (He worked for the original Details Magazine for free, and earned a huge payout—which he never claimed—when it was purchased by Conde Nast.) He doesn’t care where he lives—his apartment has literally no furniture but a bed and filing cabinets filled with his photographs. He only cares about fashion.
Here is his slideshow and commentary (wonderful commentary!) about New York Fashion Week.
I can never live like Bill Cunningham, but I’m learning to take my own passion—writing—more seriously. Bill Cunningham fears nothing…nothing except being unable to work. He fears no failure. What does failure even mean when you don’t care about money or prestige? The work is the all.
There lies a real lesson on how to live.