“Money is the Cheapest Thing…”

“If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do. Money is the cheapest thing. Liberty and Freedom are the most expensive.”

Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue once said that “we all dress for Bill”.  Bill is Bill Cunningham, an 82-year old street fashion photographer for the NY Times, who bicycles every day through the streets of Manhattan documenting people and what they wear.

He has been doing this for over 50 years.  On the guest list for every socialite event in New York City, Cunningham is entirely unaffected by fame or status. I wanted to find out more about him and watched “Bill Cunningham New York” on Netflix.  Here’s the preview:

Until 2010 he  lived in a tiny rent controlled apartment, an artist studio in Carnegie Hall (yes, that Carnegie Hall), with no kitchen and a bathroom down the hall. The place was so small that his bed consisted of a mattress placed on top of his filing cabinets. The movie is worth seeing just for the studios in Carnegie Hall and the artists who lived there, like Editta Sherman,  a 99 year old photographer and former Warhol muse. She was also known for making delicious soups from scratch which she would leave at her fellow artists doors. It was Bohemia in mid-town Manhattan until 2010 when all of them were evicted to make room for something more sensible like office spaces and emergency generators. However Cunningham didn’t seem to care and was moved to another rent controlled apartment where he asked the landlord to remove the kitchen appliances to make room for his negatives.

People and what they wear is all he really cares about. What does Cunningham wear? He wears the same cheap smock Parisian garbage workers wear, not because it’s a fashion statement, but because it has many pockets for his rolls of film. Yes, he is still shooting film. When he attends the parties of the rich and famous, he changes into black tie, grabs his 29th bike – the others got stolen –  and takes pictures of everybody who interests him, with no regard to rank and status. He declines any invitation for food or even water. That would be inappropriate according to his principles and idea of freedom.

His smile and laugh are contagious.

Bill Cunningham will not compromise his art for comfort, status or riches, which for most of us is not an easy thing to do. He lives exactly the life he chooses: bicycling through Manhattan photographing people and the things they wear.

Even if you have zero interest in either photography or fashion this film is a great portrait of an inspiring artist. Or is he a philosopher?

“Money is cheap, liberty and freedom are expensive.”

He is right.

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3 Responses to ““Money is the Cheapest Thing…””

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  1. Mary H says:

    So sad about the artists being moved out of Carnegie Hall – what more fitting place for art studios? I am very impressed by Bill Cunningham and wasn’t aware of the movie before now, but I have already put it at the top of my netflixs queue. I think he’s an artist and philosopher,and maybe a radical :“Money is cheap, liberty and freedom are expensive.” I agree.

  2. Ruth says:

    I’ve been following Bill Cunningham’s column in the NYTimes online for years, and loved it.
    There is another, very interesting website I recommend:
    it’s both in German and English.
    Liebe Gruesse

  3. Bele says:

    Funny, I thought of Smillas anders-anziehen-blog right away, too.

    And wouldn’t it be wonderful, if our Bundespraesident Wulff would follow Bill Cunningham principles just a tiny little bit. “Money is cheap, liberty and freedom are expensive.” So true.

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