I don't see many movies, because I often walk away feeling like I've wasted two hours of my life. The medium of film just rarely moves me. But when it does, I get pretty excited. Case in point: "Bill Cunningham New York." I walked out of this movie on such a high; so happy to spend two hours with such an odd, lovable, driven artist.
I do read his long running "On the Street" in the Style section. I love how he rounds up the latest trends he sees on the streets of New York each week. What I did not know was that he shoots everything on film with an old Nikon FM SLR camera. Yes, only film - at a major newspaper. The New York Times just has to wait as he gets his film developed at a random one-hour spot. One scene (among many) that film shooters will identify with: he gets his negatives back from said one-hour store and immediately, right there in the store, pulls them out to see what he got. And he's excited like a kid at Christmas. I know that feeling.
He lives in a tiny apartment that's filled with nothing but filing cabinets containing every negative that he's shot. His bathroom is in the hall. I'm not sure there was a kitchen, nothing but those dozens of filing cabinets stuffed with negatives and a few clothes hangers. "This is my closet," he laughs as the points out the hangers attached to a filing cabinet drawer handle.
Another scene shows him in Paris at Fashion Week. After standing there ignored by a clueless fashion show gatekeeper, someone grabs him and tells the gatekeeper, "This is the most important person on earth." Inside, he explains his method of shooting fashion shows. He sits in the front row and only raises his Nikon to take pictures of what interests him. He's deliberate, choosy, and not easily impressed. The videocamera zooms out to show the multiple rows behind him of photographers with HUGE zoom lenses all pointed at the same scene with flash bulbs snapping multiple times a second. It's photography by blitzkrieg, a blanket of digital mediocrity. Then it zooms back in on Cunningham in the front row with his tiny Nikon FM camera and what looks like a standard 35mm lens on it. That totally summed up how I often feel about the current state of photography. I loved the man instantly.
This image is from a post on the blog of another street fashion photographer who gets it right, The Sartorialist. Knowing how much he owes Bill Cunningham, Scott Schuman calls him Master Bill Cunningham in this blog post.
If you love photography or fashion, do not miss this movie. If you still shoot film, you have to see this movie. You'll love the energy of this man. You'll love his attitude. And you'll wish you had his work ethic. I'm still blown away.