Bill Cunningham Looked for Subjects. And They Looked for Him.


I took some photos of him because he just stood out so much to me.

I remember him being shy, and he would reposition himself when he spotted me trying to take a photo of him. He probably thought I was taking photos of “The Bill Cunningham,” but in reality I was just doing what he was famous for: capturing candid photos of interesting people.

It wasn’t until a friend saw my photos on Instagram and educated me as to who this man was. After that, I read up on his legacy and watched the documentary about his life and learned what an interesting man he was.

‘I Asked the Tourists if They Knew Who Took Their Photo’

Kevin Chan in New York

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Kevin Chan

He’s one of my inspirations as a photographer. Funny story of when I met him in October 2013 at the Central Park fall pumpkin festival. A group of tourists asked him if he would take a picture of them, not knowing who he was, but just a guy with a camera who looked like he knew how to take a photo. I asked the tourists if they knew who took their photo — one of the most legendary photographers in the world. I’m sure they’ll be cherishing that photo now.

‘I Promised Her Some Candy if She Stayed Still’

Regan Stephens in New York

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Bennett Stephens, 4.

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Regan Stephens

Last summer I took my then-3-year-old daughter to the Ralph Lauren children’s show at Central Park Zoo. I snapped a quick photo while he was working hard to capture all the impeccably dressed tots and their parents. I promised her some candy if she stayed still, and you can see from the look on her face she didn’t realize she was in the presence of one of the greats.

‘He Still Had Fun Taking Pictures’

Matthew Allen in New York

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Matthew J. Allen

I saw him while I was photographing the 2015 Armory art show as an avid hobbyist. His ability to place himself perfectly, at the right moment, was instructive, to say the least. At one point, he and I momentarily crossed photographic paths in front of a mirror. He nodded in my direction when we brought our cameras down, and that nod told me that after all those years, he still had fun taking pictures.

‘Briefly Sharing This City’

Kashish Das Shrestha in New York

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Kashish Das Shrestha

As a documentary photographer from Nepal working New York Fashion Week, I always thought it was a thrill to be taking photos and to turn and realize that I was briefly sharing this city, and its streets and runways, with an icon like Bill Cunningham, who it seemed would have preferred not to be noticed at all.

More From Bill Cunningham

‘Snubbed by Bill Cunningham!’

Karen Stevenson in Berkeley, Calif.

I’d followed Bill Cunningham’s photo essays for years, and was excited to see him snapping photos at the Metropolitan Opera’s 2015 New Year’s Eve gala. I had on a new dress, and secretly hoped he’d think I looked as elegant as I thought I did and take my picture. Eventually he did look in my direction, checked out my outfit and turned away. Snubbed by Bill Cunningham! My bruised pride notwithstanding, I remained a devoted fan.

‘I Tried to Play it Cool’

A.B. Rashish in Brooklyn

When I was 19, I had a weekend job at a very chic clothing store in SoHo. This was in the 1980s. I would wear the store’s clothes when I worked there. One Saturday, I took a break and was walking over to Donald Sacks for coffee. I spotted Bill Cunningham, crouched low at the corner as I made my way down the block in an olive green gabardine suit with a turned-up fur collar. I tried to play it cool, but I couldn’t help cracking a smile as he snapped my picture. When he stopped shooting, he smiled right back.

‘He Refused to Take a Selfie’

Lynnette Blanche in New York

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Lynnette Blanche

I once spotted him in Central Park. Despite seeing him zip around the city all the time, I never bothered him. This time, I had to get a picture. I begged him for a selfie. He was quick to decline and let me know he hated them! But, being the polite man that he was, he graciously allowed me to take his picture. He gave me one shot. I wish it was better, but I’m so glad I have it. He had the best smile.

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