Bill Cunningham: Facades
“William J. Cunningham—is that Bill Cunningham?” the New-York Historical Society’s Valerie Paley, who curated a new exhibition titled Facades of the photographer’s early work, recalls a member of her team wondering aloud after stumbling upon a carefully labeled set of 88 images in their archives. Yes, they had discovered photographs from that Bill Cunningham which he had donated to the society almost 40 years ago—before the New York Times gig, the eponymous documentary, and his name becoming synonymous with street style. Shot between 1968 and 1976, the Facades collection differs from the candid, voyeuristic images that Cunningham is best known for today in style—models such as his muse Editta Sherman pose outside of historic New York City landmarks wearing 18th-, 19th-, and 20th- century costumes. Both are a love letter to the city of New York. In preparation for this project, Cunningham collected over 500 vintage costumes and scouted over 1,800 locations on his bicycle, and the photographer noted historical details about how women would have traditionally worn the clothing on the back of each image “He saw a time evaporating,” Paley said, noting the demolition of the original Pennsylvania Station in 1963, and the similar fate that faced Grand Central Station. Strikingly beautiful and anthropologically rich, the images say as much about fashion as they do the cultural context surrounding it—a theme familiar even to Cunningham’s newest fans. “Bill Cunningham: Facades” is on view March 14 through June 15 at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, 170 Central Park West.