The Authentic Life of Bill Cunningham

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There are so many ways to live a life.

I think about this idea from time to time, when I’m reflecting on whether or not I am living as authentically as I could be. If I’m listening to my intuition and bravely setting off in my own direction. There are times when I feel like I am dancing in sync with that divine melody, and other times when I am clearly out of step.

I had a glimpse at a life lived in naked truth this weekend. I happened upon a documentary on Netflix called “Bill Cunningham New York.” I don’t know why, but at the moment it looked like EXACTLY the thing I wanted to watch (and I happily found it after only a few minutes of searching, as opposed to the hour+ it normally takes me to decide on a film).

Holy cow, what an interesting man! I’m certainly not a fashion maven, though I do have passing interest in how people dress, myself included. But I don’t follow the fashion world and I avoid fashion magazines like I do old boyfriends.

Well, apparently, I’ve been missing something pretty great.

Bill Cunningham photographs people on the street in Manhattan for the New York Times, focusing on how they express their individual style through what they wear. He’s been doing this every day since 1978.

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photo credit:

To be clear – he is not paparazzi. He is a bona fide documentarian, not interested in celebrity or money. He is invited to all the best society parties and functions, but he doesn’t attend them to have a good time or to avail himself of all the free food and booze. He often doesn’t accept money for the work he does. He lives simply in an apartment stuffed with file cabinets and sleeps on a cot. He wears the same blue workman’s smock that he has been wearing for decades. He uses old school film. He rides his bike everywhere. He is 86.

He is absolutely amazing.

I find it fascinating to think about all the different ways one can live a life. Those that make unusual choices and take direction solely from their inner compass are the most intriguing. Bill Cunningham embodies this idea in the most simple and joyful way. I smiled the entire time I was watching the film.

If you have a little free time, do check out this documentary, even if fashion is not your thing. Because it’s not about fashion. It is about joy and truth and culture and honesty. It has inspired me to tune into that inner voice and listen to it more carefully, and to seek out beauty.

If you see the film, let me know what you think!


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