Fashion Photographer Bill Cunningham Finds Beauty on the Street
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
“The wider world that perceives fashion as a frivolity that should be done away with. The point is fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you can do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization.”
Fashion photographer Bill Cunningham is a personal hero, and I’m not that interested in fashion. I’m inspired by who he is as a person. I keep a photograph of him tacked up in my cube with the caption “I’m looking for something that has beauty.”
Cunningham is compelled by clothing — not the celebrity status or pedigree of the wearer. He champions lively personal style wherever and whenever it captures his highly-trained eye. On Sundays, I like to soak up his weekly “On the Street” feature in The New York Times. Now he’s the subject of a new documentary, Bill Cunningham New York. It’s the best film I’ve seen this year.
The documentary reveals Cunningham’s incredible work ethic and the ferocious joy of his work. Now in his 80s, he spends his days riding around Manhattan without a helmet on a beat-up bicycle. His film-loaded camera is always at the ready (no, he does not shoot digital), cocked to shoot someone’s interesting hat or low-rider pants.
In the evenings, he tours New York’s society circuit, snapping photos at charity benefit functions. He never eats the food at these events, and even refuses to accept a glass of water. He says this would compromise his objective stance.
While fashion has been the driver of Cunningham’s life and career, he describes his own personal style as dreary. While working, he wears a signature royal blue workman’s jacket. For years, he lived in a monk-like studio above Carnegie Hall stuffed with filing cabinets for all of his negatives. It didn’t even have a bathroom (it was down the hall). More recently, he has relocated to a bigger apartment. He asked to have the appliances and counters removed to make room for his files.
Bill Cunningham found his passion and calling in life. And because he did, he’s given a gift to the rest of us. Here’s a reminder from Cunningham to pay attention to what we see, and to look for beauty in our everyday encounters: ”Fashion comes from everywhere. It’s all here and the streets are speaking to us.”
Women in Ministry: The Fashion Problem
Kate Moos, managing producer
No one has ever accused me of being fashion-forward. Neither will I ever willingly join a conversation on the relative merits of mascara brands. Nonetheless, I was completely entertained by Courtney Wilder’s essay on Sightings about a blog that enjoins women clergy to navigate the occasionally fine line between professional dress and excessive *hot-ness* as church leaders.
A couple years back I got a letter from an apparently very attractive aspirant to the ministry who raved on and on about how she was just TOO PRETTY to be accepted as a clergyperson and that was why she had failed in her various attempts to achieve ordained status.
At the time I thought to myself, “Chickie here has a lot of serious issues, and being ‘too pretty’ may indeed be one of them, but let’s file this thought away for further reflection until I hear from a more grounded person about the reality of being too beautiful for ministry.”
And lo, that time has come, pigeons. While I know of several movie-star handsome men in the clergy whose Hotness does not seem to prevent them from being taken seriously, I have now collected several stories of female clergy being taken aside by male superiors and told that their beauty or sexiness is “distracting” and a serious problem.
What shall we call this?
Plain and simple.
If a man is distracted by his completely appropriately-dressed female minister’s beauty and sexiness, that’s his gadnapped problem. The Biblical name for that problem is lust, I do believe. The cultural name for it is objectification. I say “Work on it with your spiritual director, Senior Pastor Horndog.”
Style & Lived Tradition
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
This photo comes from Hijabs High, a blog inspired by the on-the-street fashion photographer The Sartorialist. However, Hijabs High has a more specific mission; collecting photos of women sporting the Islamic hijab (head scarf), and showcasing “international street style from fabulous hijabistas.”
It’s a refreshing image when so much of what we hear about the hijab, or the burqa and niqab, is steeped in politics and ideology — a more recent example being the emergence of the head scarf as a political symbol in the Indonesian presidential election. What seems to get lost in these stories is the day-to-day experience of women who wear a hijab not as a symbol or political statement, but as an expression of their personal faith.
This is what I love about the image above; it seems to give us a glimpse of that lived faith. What I see in this photo is a young woman balancing different cultural pressures and expectations — and doing it with style and personality.
This fall we plan to produce a program about “expressions of Muslim identity,” modeled on last year’s program “The Beauty and Challenge of Being Catholic.” Like the Catholic program, we’ve put a call out to Muslims to lend their perspective — and I think the above photo offers one impression of the type of story we’re looking for:
If you are Muslim, we’d like to understand more about the complexity and diversity of “the Muslim world,” as it is often called. What does “being Muslim” mean to you? What do you find beautiful about Islam, and how does it find expression in your daily life? What hopes, questions, and concerns are on your mind as you ponder the future of your tradition?