21 Aug 2012

for the grace of god

Memories of New York in the 80s recently hit me watching a film about Bill Cunningham, a chronicler of Manhattan street and society fashion. His way of working can be characterised by a comment he makes to someone concerned he's missed dinner at a charity event he's photographing. "I eat with my eyes" he informs her. And so he does, not just eating but living and breathing it too, out on the street with a degree of fanaticism and "in your faceness" that reminded me of Bruce Gilden but, significantly, without the aggression or latent hostility. Bill Cunningham is more a butterfly catcher than a hit man, pinning the exotic, the ephemeral to a page in the New York Times for dissection and classification.
His technique of riding a bike, eyes more on the sidewalk than in front of him, affords him the ability to anticipate opportunities that a foot-bound mortal would miss. I'd love to know how many of his 27, and counting, stolen bikes were sacrificed for the prize of a picture of a pair of Manolo Blahniks.

The overwhelming emotion I felt was of the capricious nature of street photography. Its promise of the perfect picture, always just around the corner; the nobility of the endeavour, chasing rainbows not the Dollar; its intrinsically subversive behaviour, breaking conventions of a polite society. Falling into temptation is to embrace an alternate state of body and mind. Intoxicating. Liberating. Addictive.
I confess to have fallen from grace several times. Certainly not to the heights of Bill Cunningham but the streets, of New York in particular, called me and I was a willing follower.