Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bill Cunningham: Quips, Quotes & Words of Wisdom

See it!

My friend Karen and I saw Bill Cunningham New York last spring as soon as it hit the theaters in San Francisco. We were charmed, enchanted and inspired by his big smile and unparalleled passion for photographing style and devotion to beautiful clothes. The film is now out on DVD so I've had the opportunity to watch it again. Well, actually three more times. I had fun collecting some of his quotes. I hope you enjoy them! I'd love to hear which ones inspire you and why. 

Here are the quotes I captured:

"The best fashion show is definitely on the street. Always has been and always will be."

"Let’s get snappin’ and crackin’."

"Oh my god! Look at those shoes!"

"I let the street speak to me."

"A little tape and we’re back in business." 
(Said with a grin as he repaired the tears in his black plastic rain poncho.)

"Everyone has taste, but they don’t have the daring to be creative."

"We’re in the age of the cookie-cutter sameness. There are few that are rarities, someone who doesn’t look like ten million others."

"You have to do three things: you have to photograph the collections, you have to photograph the women on the street who have bought the things and how they are wearing them and you have to go to the evening events."

"It’s not what I think, it’s what I see."

"It was marvelous!"

Bill shooting a peacock. Still from Bill Cunningham New York

"It never occurred to me that I was just waiting. It’s always the hope that you’ll see some marvelous exotic bird of paradise, meaning a very elegant stunning woman or someone wearing something terrific."

"If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do, kid. That’s the key to the whole thing."

"Money is the cheapest thing. Freedom is the most expensive thing."

"Who the hell wants a kitchen and a bathroom? Just more rooms to clean."

"I eat with my eyes."

"Look at this beautiful child. The dress is terrific, asymmetrical and on the bias. You never see that and that’s not a model. That’s a private person that bought their own clothes."

"Most of the time I miss it, but I try." (When shooting the Paris runway.)

"The wider world perceives fashion sometimes as a frivolity that should be done away with in the face of social upheavals and problems that are enormous. The point is, in fact, that it’s the armor to survive the reality of everyday life."

"I don’t think you could do away with it (fashion). It would be like doing away with civilization."

"Fashion Week in Paris is exceptional. It educates the eye."

"Can you see all the paparazzi going crazy over Catherine Deneuve? I’m interested in clothes. I can hear people say 'He’s gotta be the dumbest one in the crowd. He didn’t bother photographing her.' Well, she wasn’t wearing anything interesting."

An up-to-the-minute anachronism. They say he has every negative he ever shot. What a treasure chest of fashion and cultural history!

"It (photography) has to be done discreetly and quietly. Invisible is the word."

"I just like fashion as an art form of dressing the body."

"If we all went out looking like a slob like me, it would be a pretty dreary world."

"They wore clothes that gave women enormous security through the elegance of cut and taste and refinement. There was nothing frivolous about them." (Referring to the Paris couture houses in the 50’s.)

"Looking at these collections, I look for what I think a woman could wear, would wear and whether it would fit a human body other than the model. I’m very attuned to that. If it isn’t something a woman could wear, I have no interest in it."

"Oh, child!"

Caught in action, photographed by The Satorialist

"My dear, it’s not work, it’s pleasure."

"I don’t work, I only know how to have fun everyday."

And the quote that choked Bill with tears (and consequently me) when he received the Officier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture:

"It’s as true today as it ever was, he who seeks beauty will find it."


  1. "If we all went out looking like a slob like me, it would be a pretty dreary world."

    I love Cunningham's little video in the NYT. Didn't realize he had a film out. I am increaingly appalled at how downright sloppy we Americans have become and how we have influenced, for the worse, europeans as well. I have fond memories of my mom in the 50s going to Safeway to buy groceries in high heels and white gloves.

  2. These two quotes seem to relate to each other: "Everyone has taste, but they don’t have the daring to be creative." "It’s as true today as it ever was, he who seeks beauty will find it." So it's about creativity, and seeking, and beauty...all with meaning. I'll continue to think about this because I think it's profound. Seeking beauty in our own adornment is an act of courage, even rebellion!

  3. Thank you for this! I have watched the film twice this week (at home and then showed it to my media class) and have been enjoying it immensely; it is so uplifting and moving. Cunningham is a humble, quirky artist whose sense of fashion's importance is stunning and sublime.

  4. Great blog.. love the quotes. Bill Cunningham is fantastic.


  5. Thanks for pointing out the greatness of that last quote. As my wife and I watched that scene, it brought tears to our eyes

  6. Seriously, one of the most inspiring things I have ever watched!

  7. I am an amateur photographer who is dabbling in the thought of becoming a professional. Bill Cunningham gave me so much inspiration. He is a hard working, creative and immensely focused person. I think his passion has rubbed off on me and I love how he still uses film and vintage cameras!