Last night, three friends and I saw Bill Cunningham New York at the Film Forum. Cunningham photographs ‘style’ for the New York Times–on the street, at parties, and at fashion shows here and abroad. That he continues to be so peacefully prolific while well into his eighties intrigues me. This smiling octogenarian seems to embody the sort of life we might choose if we did not want to be ‘tied down’ by anything or anyone. At 83 years old, he can be seen riding around the city on his bicycle photographing street style or going from an uptown party to a downtown art opening. He lived most of his life in a tiny apartment in Carnegie Hall with no kitchen and a bathroom in the hallway. He was ‘relocated’ recently by the landlord (an amusing story within the story). Luxury is not something he needs or wants. What he does seem to need are two things: his work and his spirituality.
What is it about a ‘simple life’ that is so appealing, especially when witnessing Cunningham’s contagious contentment and happiness? He seems ‘light’ and not bogged down with all the trappings that might keep us from having a peaceful mind and clarity of thought. There are no distractions from what is important in life—doing one’s work with a sense of joy, being with people, and feeling free.
Of course, it can seem difficult to be ‘free’ when we have families and homes and jobs that require some serious overhead and/or commitment. Cunningham did admit in the documentary that he has never had a serious romantic relationship. Well, that right there can take away a huge boulder thrown into the calm lake of our minds! Kidding aside, I am convinced that it is our attitude more than what we have or don’t that makes us happy. Everyone has their place and unique purpose. After all, Cunningham would not have a job if people did not have huge power parties, stage fashion shows, or care so much about what they wear. As he jokes at a party in the film, “Watch out! A handshake here could mean a new wing on a museum!”
Anyone can be a NY aesthetic whether navigating the city on a bicycle, by subway, or in a black SUV. Living like an urban monk means respecting others while staying true to ourselves. This is true freedom and challenging anywhere—in the city or in a mountain monastery. Looking for inspiration? I highly recommend seeing the film.
What did you think of Bill Cunningham in the film?