I watched a documentary about a photographer recently, Bill Cunningham New York. Bill Cunningham had a circuitous route to becoming a photographer, even though he wouldn’t call himself a photographer.
He started as a fashion designer. His specialty was making hats. Over time, he started writing for a small magazine in New York. This morphed into a career as a photographer. In his urge to capture moments in time, he turned to a camera as a faster means of capturing moments.
Today he has two columns in the New York Times. He writes about fashion with his camera. One column is about society events and the fashionable people who attend these events.
His other column is about everyday people on the street. He documents people he finds fashionable or anti-fashionable. He is great at spotting the most interesting person in a city of millions. From these people, he even finds trends as they are happening.
Bill is a very interesting man with a great moral and ethical code and a minimalist approach to life. His apartment, at the time of the documentary, is very small. It houses only a homemade bed, worthy of the most elite hobo, and more filing cabinets than you can count. In these cabinets he houses images from throughout his career. This house has no closet to speak of, no bathroom (he uses a communal bath down the hall), and no kitchen. His clothes are anything but fashionable but highly utilitarian. He travels the city on a bike.
Most interestingly, he still uses a completely manual film camera. Unlike artistic photographers though, he gets his film developed a a local photo-mat. He brings the uncut negatives to the Times’ office where his art director scans the images and lays out his column.
Lastly, he never gives in to a code he lives by. Early in his career he decided to never accept food or drink at any of the events he was working. By all accounts he has stayed true to this. Why doesn’t he accept these things? He saw his colleagues being swayed by the people they were there to document, and he never wanted to have this happen.