In March 2010, when the film “Bill Cunningham New York” had its premiere at the Museum of Modern Art, the subject of the film — the longtime New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham — stood outside on the West 53rd Street sidewalk, snapping photos of attendees as they strode into the theater. But he never went inside to the screening itself, and he always maintained that he had never seen the documentary that made him famous.
Two years later, when he was honored by Carnegie Hall with its Medal of Excellence, he accepted the honor graciously and gave a moving speech at the dinner, reading from rolls of paper on which he had handwritten his remarks. But in the article about the event that ran in The Times that Sunday, accompanied by his photos of the fashionably dressed guests, he insisted that all mention of the night’s honoree — himself — be stricken from the account.
So, it was not hard to imagine what his reaction might have been to the gathering of hundreds of people at Carnegie Hall on Monday afternoon, including Michael R. Bloomberg, who spoke of how Mr. Cunningham captured the “diversity, creativity, grit, glamour, spirit and swagger of New York;” Anna Wintour, who read the Lord Byron poem “So We’ll Go No More a Roving,” and the New York Times publisher and chairman, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., all coming together to pay heartfelt tribute to the man who died on June 25 at age 87.
He would have been outside, his bike parked nearby, snapping away at the men and women streaming in — and doing his best to ignore the very reason Carnegie Hall was filled to capacity on this unseasonably warm fall day.