Bill Cunningham Captivated New York City

by Daisy Prince Photographed by Angela Pham/
Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Dear New York Times Editors:

For most people, I’m sure that Bill Cunningham’s recent death was just another bit of sad news in a very sad week. But to the fashion and social crowd, we’ve lost an emblem, and his death represents the end of an era. As the editor of a society magazine and as someone who loves looking at fashion and parties, I’ve been avidly reading Mr. Cunningham’s column for years

As has been said often enough in the spate of tributes, Mr. Cunningham (I never knew him well-enough to call him Bill) was a one-of-a-kind.

I saw him around the city frequently, at society parties and sometimes in Washington Square Park. Sometimes, I’d try and chat with him, usually to be gently rebuffed with a sweet smile. Once, I suggested that he should do a book of his photos, but he merely waved his hand and said, “No, no. Not for me.” He was a great listener, and he always wrote the names of his subjects down correctly.

To be photographed by Mr. Cunningham was an honor, and a particularly pleasant one because he never seemed to take an unflattering picture. Although the clothes were always his first focus at the parties he covered, he was careful to always remember to take pictures of the host and hostess. As someone with her own eye on the social and philanthropic goings on in this city, I found that his pictures often had news angles and hooks to them. He could tell a story through his photos so well that I can only assume his social knowledge was encyclopedic. I also always admired the way he never took pictures in front of press walls or posed two people together. His pictures were spontaneous and evocative. In his “On the Street” column, I marveled at his ability to come up with a different theme each week, just as much as I was I was equally impressed at how he could make any charity ‘do look like the epitome of glamour in his “Evening Hours” Column.

I’m writing this letter to plea with the editors of the Times not to replace him. This is not to say they should do away with what are very popular and enjoyable pages in the newspaper, but merely that no single person could do his job. Bill Cunningham’s illustration of New York City life will be impossible replace. To ask another photographer to do his job would be to set that photographer up for disappointment. The way that every writer has their own voice, every photographer leaves their own visual imprint. Bill Cunningham even said himself, “I write with pictures.”

Instead I suggest that they appoint one person to the post of social editor and have that person chose the best shots from a variety of photographers. This way, a cross section of New Yorkers will continue to be represented and the column will have variety and a single voice. If the editors must appoint a photographer, please let it be Billy Farrell. Over the last four years I’ve been the editor of Avenue, I’ve enjoyed working with his photos, which are irreverent and instinctive. His photographic philosophy is the closest to Bill Cunningham’s.

It will not be an easy task to find a replacement for such a beloved New York institution. Who else can take such great pictures of this crazy town? New York City has lost a one of its finest characters.

All the best,

Daisy Prince


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