Friday, April 13, 2012

Fashion and Passion

Bei, age 4, with large high heels in China.
(Click to enlarge)

I'm curious about fashion photography in the same way that I'm curious about particle physics or religious faith.  I'm incapable of really understanding it, but sometimes I can't take my eyes away.  At a personal level, I've been wearing the same clothes since I was about 10 years old and except for shorter hair and a general surrender to gravity, not much else about my appearance has changed either.  Still, I sat down last night and watched a fantastic documentary on Bill Cunningham, the famously eccentric and relentlessly productive NYT street and fashion photographer,  responsible for the Sunday NYT "On the Street" column featuring his images of fashion on ordinary people on the streets of New York that he produces each week, despite being over 80 years old and apparently never driving a car.  Cunningham rides his bicycle everywhere, lived most of his career in a tiny apartment in Carnegie Hall (once home to an eclectic mix of artists), slept on a mattress propped up by milk crates, and at least according to him, never had time for a romantic relationship of any kind ("I was too busy.").  He's a testament to the power of passion and love of what one does.  Watch the movie if this sounds interesting--you can stream it on Netflix (I received no compensation for that).

Bei, unlike her father (or mother), is fascinated by fashion, once pronouncing that she wanted to be a "fashion consulter," proving once and for all that nurture and nature are indeed independent forces.  Even when she was four (she's now almost 11) she was very much interested in clothes.  We lived in China that year, and for Christmas her greatest wish was to have her own high heeled shoes.  This motivated me to stretch my Mandarin and my dignity to the limit in a ladies' shoe store in Lijiang, where I finally convinced the skeptical salespeople that I truly did want to buy the smallest available pair of red stiletto heels for my 4-year-old daughter.  They were appalled.  

Passion is a fascinating quality in any context, and a driving force for anyone who loves what they do.  Bill Cunningham, now relocated to a "nicer" apartment (the Carnegie apartments were tragically converted to business space and the artists evicted), had his new landlord remove all of the kitchen cabinets so that he could move six decades of negatives into the vacated space.  Among those are images of some of the most iconic figures (fashion and otherwise) of the last century, along with many more of  unnamed people on the street, dressed provocatively, and captured on film by one of the most prolific photographers of our time. 

 Bei, age 4,  Lijiang, China.

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