Cunningham captured fashion trends for the newspaper for almost 40 years before his death

By Andrea Park
Updated June 25, 2016 06:05 PM
Gareth Cattermole/Getty

Bill Cunningham, who photographed fashion trends for the New York Times for almost 40 years, has died at 87, the newspaper confirmed.

According to the paper, Cunningham died in New York City on Saturday after having recently been hospitalized for a stroke.

The photographer was known for riding around the city on a bike, capturing pictures of trendy fashion items (recent entries included off-the-shoulder tops, ripped jeans and the color pink) to craft photo essays for his “On the Street” and “Evening Hours” columns.

A 2009 profile of Cunningham in the New Yorker described these columns as “frequently playful” while still conveying “an elegiac respect for the anonymous promenade of life in a big city, and a serious desire to get it all down.”

Cunningham was awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the French government in 2008 and named a Living Landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2009. A documentary film celebrating his work, Bill Cunningham New York, premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in N.Y.C. in 2010.

“His company was sought after by the fashion world’s rich and powerful, yet he remained one of the kindest, most gentle and humble people I have ever met,” Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., publisher and chairman of the Times, said. “We have lost a legend, and I am personally heartbroken to have lost a friend.”

In a 2002 Times article entitled “Bill on Bill,” Cunningham chronicled his own career, explaining how his style of photography has barely changed since he began taking pictures of people on the street during World War II.

“The problem is I’m not a good photographer. To be perfectly honest, I’m too shy. Not aggressive enough. Well, I’m not aggressive at all,” he wrote. “I just loved to see wonderfully dressed women, and I still do. That’s all there is to it.”

Cunningham described moving to N.Y.C. at the age of 19 after dropping out of Harvard after just one term. Soon after, he opened a hat shop and began working at a drugstore and a Howard Johnson’s.

After returning to New York from the Korean War in 1953, Cunningham worked briefly for Women’s Wear Daily and the Chicago Tribune. He received his first professional-grade camera in the late 1960s from photographer David Montgomery, and once he began taking pictures for the Times in the early 1970s, the rest was history.

“I suppose, in a funny way, I’m a record keeper. More than a collector. I’m very aware of things not of value but of historical knowledge,” he wrote. “I go out every day. When I get depressed at the office, I go out, and as soon as I’m on the street and see people, I feel better. But I never go out with a preconceived idea. I let the street speak to me.”