Photo: Robert Clark
The corner of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue is a popular mecca for tourists and locals alike. A stone’s throw from the glamorous window displays of Tiffany and Co., this corner was until very recently home to a different kind of local landmark, the late iconic fashion photographer Bill Cunningham.
Cunningham, whose 1978 candid photograph of Greta Garbo launched his 38 year career with The New York Times, was a self-taught photographer. He was most known for capturing New Yorkers at their most unguarded, outrageous fashion, and simply just authenticity-often from the corner of 57th and Fifth. It became known affectionately as “Bill’s Corner” and the most likely spot in all the city to catch a glimpse of the artist at work.
In the weeks following his passing on June 26th, 2016, an effort has been undertaken to have the corner of 57th and Fifth re-named “Bill Cunningham Corner” in his honor.
For Cunningham, fashion was not just about designers and labels, but being truthful. When asked why he took a photograph of a woman “not wearing anything special,” Cunningham countered with,”I am not fond of photographing women who borrow dresses. I prefer to photograph women who spend their own money. When you spend your own money, you make a different choice.”
Bill Cunningham biked around the city, long before it was popular, and did so up until his death at aged 87. He lived in a small apartment in the Carnegie Hall Building, that had no closets or even a private bathroom. It did, however, house boxes upon boxes of his work, most of which he never sold or even published. He was quoted in 2016 by New York magazine as saying,”I’m stealing people’s shadows, so I don’t feel as guilty when I don’t sell them.”
“Bill Cunningham saw the style and beauty of all of our city’s citizens, capturing the looks of fashion models and bankers, grandmothers and college students with his vivid photos,” observed New York City’s First Lady, Chirlane McCray, in a live stream on her husband’s, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Facebook page.
In 2009 he was named a “living landmark” by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. He was also the subject of a 2010 documentary entitled “Bill Cunningham New York.”
The petition to permanently rename the corner of 57th and 5th in Bill Cunningham’s honor can be found here. To date, it has over 6,400 signatures, and for a week it briefly was. In a ceremony presided over by both McCray, and Times executive editor Dean Baquet, the corner was temporarily renamed “Bill Cunningham Corner.”
The petition is now the first step in a longer legislative process to make the renaming official, and, more importantly, permanent.